Rules of the road

Kasama

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August 12, 2007

Comments

celticfire

I would agree Gramsci can offer some important insights into some of the missed lessons of the last century. Especially understanding that orthodoxy (specifically the CoP) does not abate the objective difficulties in making revolution, but instead will generate new orthodoxies and feed a dogmatic approach. This declaration is a result of just such a process - and it shows in the religious venerating of Mao.

My point is that this whole process binds us to recreating it. We can see the Stalin era as proof of this- and r.john pointed out some of the very real problems with Soviet socialism.

"We honor and pay the highest respect to Comrade Mao Zedong for leading the Communist Party of China (CPC)"

It opens like a church sermon and ends much the same.

Does orthodoxy really fight revisionism?

JB

Making revolution fights revisionism, and many of the people who have signed that declaration are affirming that fight.

Chicago

People are purposely obscuring that it was Hua, who Mao was cultivating as a successor before his death, who deposed the gang of four, not Teng.

For all the talk about commanding heights, Teng was still out of power in 1976.

Teng deposed Hua later.

ShineThePath

Important point Chicago, and I would have to agree. Who was giving the sermon for Mao? Was it not Zhang Chunqiao, Chiang Jiang, and Hua Goufeng...Hua was indeed not the same as Deng Xiaoping, and Deng Xiaoping did politically isolate and oust Hua Goufeng for his "Whatevers."

This is indeed a part of the problem of not looking at events within its temporal developments. That is Deng Xiaoping ousting Hua Goufeng was just as important in the cosolidation of revisionists and vital to the neo-liberal direction of the CPC.

Just as in the CPSU the removal of Malenkov as General Secretary in 1954, and 1957 defeat of the "anti-Party clique" are important in the development as well.

Chicago

Ranks after Mao at time of death:

Hua Kuo-feng
Wang Hung-wen (who was a lightweight by all accounts)
Yeh Chien-ying
Chang Chun-chiao
Soon Ching Ling
Chiang Ching
Yao Wen-yuan...

Teng wasn't even rehabilitated yet. Hua, who had quickly raised up the ranks by Mao, already was at the commanding heights when Mao died. Hua was ranked number two when Mao was alive and number one after. It wasn't like he deposed people above him to conquer the commanding heights.

It seems like people are playing a little loose with history to force events to fit a pat theory.

r. john

Hua was a frontman and "transitional figure," but an active figure nonetheless in the revisionist coup.

Yeh Chienying was a key figure (and military man) in the coup.

And anyone who doesn't think Deng was neck-deep in the operations and the after effects (though he was not "rehabilitated" yet with "rank"), has little sense of the politics of that society.

The overall program of the operation (the four modernizations and a complex of subordinate plans and policies that were then implemented) had been worked out by Deng.

A useful initial detailed discussion of all this is contained in the breakdown of "Mao's last great battle" in the book Mao Makes 5.

Chicago

Teng and those like him supported the coup. Lotta asserts as much, but Lotta is short on details about Teng's support. It is a fair to assume Teng's supporters still in power or those with the same outlook threw their weight behind the arrests with Hua's people. But It is simply not true that Teng at the time of the arrests was at the commanding heights of formal state power (you yourself emphasized formal power as a keylink earlier -- is it or isn't it about occupying the commanding heights of formal power? Now you are fudging, Mr.). He was still being denounced in official publications and even later. And Hua was not some kind of Teng front man. Hua may have been a revisionist (or not), but he had a different program than Teng as everyone knows which is why he was deposed later. Even the Eleventh Congress upheld the cultural revolution and its legacy as positive. The propaganda around that time cast the gang of four as anti-cultural revolution, for example.

The fact remains: the commanding heights were already in control of Hua and Yeh Chien-ying prior to the arrest of the Gang of Four. Mao put Hua there. Hua and company were at commanding heights prior to Mao's death. Was Mao a front man too? Or are we just to swallow whole-hog Lotta's unlikely tale that the rightwing (after Chou's death!) was so strong they bullied Mao into compromise, ignoring Mao's prior support of Hua going back to Hua's defense of Mao after the GLF. Not to mention Mao's ambiguous attitude toward Chang.

Lotta shapes history around his narrow pre-conceived view. Lotta is dogmatist, so what..

r. john

There are (of course) many details missing from the events surrounding the inner party struggles. And I want to get at this question from a number of sides.

* * * * *

First, i think it is historically wrong (and, as I'll suggest, a little self serving in some quarters!) to make a big deal out of supposed differences between Hua and Deng.

The core of military science is the postulate: "War is a continuation of politics by other means."

Well, The coup of 1976 was the military nodal point and continuation of a protracted struggle over power and line that reached far into the whole post-liberation struggle of the CCP.

Teng had spent his career (and in an especially intensive way between 1971 and 1975) refining and promoting an all-round revisionist package for "modernization" -- and gathering forces for the fight around that package.

This was in sharp direct opposition to the line of mao and the "socialist new things" of the GPCR.

Mao (as is known from his final statements) was deeply concerned that his forces would lose the middle elements (within the state and party) needed for holding power.

There was a recurring problem of the genuine left being unable to connect with that middle, both for objective and subjective reasons.)

And, as Mao died, and the endgame of the GPCR unfolded, it became clear that the leading revisionists could count on the support of forces (like Hua and others) for their move. And that other important middle (and left!) forces proved to be paralyzed (neutral or passive) when the strike against the Four went into motion.

However, there really were basically two lines and two programs that had long been collision -- and Deng had long been the figure representing, leading and organizing opposition to the whole Maoist program (especially once Liu, then Lin, then Zhou were moved from the scene).

These are struggles within the heights of power -- where people with leading posts represented sharply different lines, and realized that now a "fight of decision" would be made. (I.e. it is not as you imply, a matter of those out of power overthrowing those IN power -- it is "one divides into two, and one eats up the other.")

I suspect Hua can be looked at as the Gerald Ford of China's party -- a figure who was agreeable to all because he was a non-entity who was essentially "out of the loop."

He is known for nothing before 1976, and his notorious place in history is based on only one thing: push came to shove he played a key, if momentary, part of the greatest single betrayal of humanity in world history.

It is true as we all know that there are many details unknown about Deng's role in the coup itself. But the idea that he was "out of power" because he had been removed from his posts after the first Tienanmen incident is very unlikely. He was working day and night on these developments -- he remained the "master mind" of the revisionist forces. (I won't repeat apocyphal stories, but note that they exist.)

* * * *

Let's not shy away from the instrumentalist reasons why some might want to invent/exaggerate differences between Hua and Deng.

I.e. there is a line that says "the striking down of Mao's forces was long overdue, and Hua was right to do it. But the problem emerged as Hua gave way to Deng and the full program of capitalist restoration."

this is the view that 1978 is the moment of restoration (not 1976). And it is hard to believe any give it credibility for any reason by self-interest.

It is (perhaps not for you Chicago, but for some well-known forces) a way that the onetime shameless supporters of this great counterrevolution can play the classic American game of "cover your ass."

I.e.: "we supported the coup when it went down, and now in embarassment we claim to be against its outcome. We only supported Hua but not Deng."

Puleeez.

No, the coup of 1976 was long brewing. Its leader, organizer, inspiration was (by 1974 onward) Deng Xiaoping. It was carried out by Deng's close ally Yeh. And then its "cast of characters" included others who "showed their colors" at the key moment (like Hua, and various forces internationally cheering them on!)

You write, chicago, about not wanting to "swallow whole-hog Lotta's unlikely tale that the rightwing (after Chou's death!) was so strong they bullied Mao into compromise."

First, as a point of method: we should not swallow anything "whole hog." We should have a crititical and scientific method.

Second, everyone (including Ray) knows that his sketch of this last battle is just that an attempt at a sketch based on scientific insights and available data, with key parts missing.

Third: this analysis is not "unlikely" at all.

By 1974-76, Mao's larger plans and endgame had not gone well.

He had not succeeded in forging a new communist alliance to create a new party (upon the foundations of the old one) out of the GPCR.

He had wanted to combine revolutionary elements from the old cadre, a fresh new wave of leaders from the GPCR activists, and then rebuild the party around them. And this had not happened.

Key forces in the red guards had not been willing to join that project (and the line of "overthrow all" had gained corrosive influence). And key forces within the old party had proven unwilling to break with one-version-or-another of the capitalist modernization.

(And these two problems, clearly, reinforced each other.)

And so, in the end, Mao was faced with a situation where his own closest forces were relatively isolated (that is the point of his "don't be a gang of four" advice!) And the broad masses (of people and cadre) had become exhausted and disoriented by the protracted and complex struggle. And for these and other reasons, the revisionists had quite a bit of wind on their backs.

Mao could not resolve things (from his death bed) by putting his own forces in power (though the knocking down of Deng, and the "Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucious" campaign was a major attempt to move in that direction).

And, reflecting the state of things, a transitional figure was put in, Hua.

By the way, as one reference point to the key line questions involved: There is a famous speech made by Hua at the "learn from Tachai conference" in the mid-70s (just before the coup) -- where essentially he is (in carefully couched formulations) calling for a purge of the party and a reversal of Mao's line.

There, theoretically and practically, it is possible to lay bare what he was about.

I also thought that Han Suyin's biography of Zhou ("The Eldest Son") was very interesting in its detailed "defense" of Zhou -- presenting him as the hidden but determined godfather of deng, of the anti GPCR forces, and of the coming coup. Her thesis is that without the protection and active work of Zhou, the whole post-Mao counterevolution would have been much more difficult.

In other words a key and controversial thesis (of Ray Lotta) is, long after the fact, endorsed and documented by one of Zhou's most wellplaced and passionate supporters.

* * * *

No, we don't have the full juicy anecdotal details that we all wish we had.

Who doesn't read Khrushchev's or Molotov's memoirs, or the summations from Soviet archives -- and then wish we even had something comparable for the key moments in china.

But let's not pretend there isn't lots of real meat upon which to make a hypothesis-with-real-power -- especially when we use a scientific approach to study the struggle and development of lines, which form the heart of the class struggle itself.

(I.e. the facts we need are not anecdotal, or the minutes of meetings -- but reside in the articulation and defense and then implementation of specific lines.)

* * * * *

On a larger methodological point of "scientific dialectics" vs. "the empiricist agnosticism":

I think your closing remark on Lotta's work is mistaken (when you charge that "Lotta shapes history around his narrow pre-conceived view.")

First, I don't think this is basically true. And it misreads both what Lotta was doing.

And more importantly, it proceeds from a too-familiar misunderstanding of how scientific analysis is made.

A basic issue of science has always been involved in struggle over the summation of this coup.

Supporters of the Deng coup (meaning the three worldists around the world, and specifically the Mensheviks within the RCP back then in 1977) made a big deal about "facts" (and the lack of "facts") -- in their demand that the new Chinese leadership should be upheld (pending more facts).

They charged that Avakian was proceeding without necessary facts and spinning out conjecture.

They walked dismissively past all the places where there WERE glaring and alarming facts, and poked their fingers in the parts of the analysis where the factual data was clearly scarce.

(And they mocked Avakian for saying "I believe..." and "It seems clear to me..." etc. in his early analysis of the coup.)

But it is worth noting some things:

a) Scientific theory never emerges from some magical moment when we have all the facts pegged down, as some derivative construct arising irresistibly from an "air tight case." Reality is rarely so compliant in offering "facts" so completely. It is rarely so simple that the "facts just speak for themselves," even when we have them. And the world does not allow us to wait for some metaphysical moment when "all the facts are in." Human practice by its nature needs to proceed based on what is known at any moment -- and in fact the whole point of scientific analysis is to grasp the essence of dynamics, based on what is known, so that there can be prediction about areas where the data is unknown,.

b) Scientific analysis (by its nature) enables leaps over gaps in data. (A point explicitly made by Engels in almost exactly those words.) This is inherent in every real scientific process. And it is, in fact, the value of scientific theory! (You form theory based on what you know, ant it allows you to correctly predict things about arenas and moments where you have less data.) Key example: Darwin was able to create a sophisticated and pathbreaking analysis BEFORE a single pre-sapien hominid fossil was in hand(!_ -- before the followiong century of stunning fossil finds and genetic discoveries that CONFIRMED his theory (after the fact), and also formed the basis for some needed modifications in his theories.

c) And so yes, our analysis of the Chinese events is based on partial knowledge. There are gaps (and there may always be major gaps).

But we do know enough (more than enough) to form the macro-picture -- to (essentially!) understand who was colliding and what they were collided over and what the outcome was.

And as with the development and refinement of scientific hypotheses, it has been valuable (for Lotta and others) to lay this out as elaborately as possible -- in order to test/compare the hypothesis against the next wave of data that will emerged.

(And, frankly the analyses of both Lotta and avakian after the coup have borne up remarkably well, both in what they claimed and what they foresaw.)

d) The empirical method of the Mensheviks (who denounced these analyses as mere conjecture etc.) is exactly the same empiricist pseudo-scientific method used by creationists now to create doubt about evolutionary theory.

In a cynical way, the creationists (who are profoundly objective idealist in an explicitly religious way) use the method of empiricism (i.e. subjective idealism) in their polemics. They point to the admittedly huge "gaps" in what is known (especially the fossil record), and use those gaps to fan a vague, agnostic climate of "who really knows?" -- aimed against the theories that actually do, correctly and scientifically, get at the essence of things based on what actually IS known.

(And it is part of the same blindered (and self-serving) empiricism to say "we can only know there is capitalist restoration when the people's communes are abolished -- since we can now see and touch it. And it is still wrong to claim it happened earlier, when only the ruling line and leadership changed -- before policy and structure changed on the ground.")

Struggling this through is part of our attempt to more firmly establish Marxism on a truly scientific basis. And involves some engagement over this question of "what does it actually mean to be scientific?"

(As an aside: In upholding the 1977 analyses of the RCP here I am not sidestepping important struggles over recurring reductionism in the RCP's analysis -- then and now. However that is just not at the core of what we are debating here.)

* * * *

Again: these issues (like our other debate over the Soviet Union) is not some petty backward-looking squabble over historical dates and old splits... but crucial questions for the future about how capitalist restoration happens and (obviously) how to prevent it.

In some ways, all we have from the previous wave of revolution is experience (and the raw material for important and valuable summations).

Correctly summing these things up, correctly understanding HOW restoration happened, and what its roots and dynamics are, remain extremely important -- as long as we don't turn it all into some new dogma of "typical motion."

It is not a matter of simplifying these events into morality tales of "black and white."

But it is important to struggle to know the difference between the capitalist road and the socialist road -- and to learn from this most protracted and complex struggle between the two.

And, I have to say, we don't want to go into the next round of revolution, theoretically basing our new thinking on the truly pathetic and craven banner of Hua.

And we don't want to (after the fact) prettify the rather grievous mistake and methodology of those (within the ICM) who (at the key moment of 1976 fell in line) rushed (slavishly and sometimes self-servingly) to offer their support to the greatest counterrevolution in history.

ShineThePath

What is wrong exactly with proceeding with more facts and trying to understand what is clearly happening at any given point in time? Is this not what we are doing with the Nepalese Party? Is this not what the Mao Zedong and the CPC did after the 20th Congress of the Soviet Union...did they not proceed cautiously trying to understand what was happeningin the Soviet Union?

Maybe Bob Avakian hit the nail on the head before Mickey Jarvis and Mike Klonsky...but I am not sure that makes his method any better, or for that matter means we should not investigate what is occuring. Proceeding from the facts of anything doesn't necessarily sum up to Empiricism. I mean come on, the so-called "Mensheviks" in FRSO/OSCL have clearly reversed their line on the question of whether China was on a Socialist Road and has tried to rectify those errors coming from the Revolutionary Worker Headquarters.

On question of leaps and the scientific method. I think it is quite right that leaps are made in theory when one looks past the gaps and puts something forward which systematizes our knowledge. However those gaps in data are still important, and of course a reason for debate itself, such gaps can have within it the demise of the theory itself. Look at Physics right now, the gaps in our knowledge of those working on string theory lead literally to several or more different scientific theories on the matter. Is that not what we are currently facing within our movement right now, those gaps of knowledge in the development of revisionism in the Parties have led to similiar but departing lines on the question of its development and how to address it.

Are the gaps something we can fill out, I am not sure, but right now we have to look wholistically at this all...create broad unity on the question [As the CPP and CPI (M) are leading us in doing], and begin "wrangling" (to borrow an Avakianism) on the question. We don't have our M Theory quite yet.

r. john

STP: "What is wrong exactly with proceeding with more facts and trying to understand what is clearly happening at any given point in time?"

uh, nothing. Obviously.

Why do you force everyone to start each response to you with the words "uh, dude, you are distorting what I said in strange ways."

You need to change your method -- and deal with what people are actually saying, not what voices in your head say.

STP writes: "I mean come on, the so-called "Mensheviks" in FRSO/OSCL have clearly reversed their line on the question of whether China was on a Socialist Road and has tried to rectify those errors coming from the Revolutionary Worker Headquarters."

I don't know what survivors in FRSO are doing. Perhaps they want to comment. But i was pointing out that a number of people use the "Hua questions" precisely to avoid dealing with their errors. They insist "we were right in 1976, and then started criticizing the party there after things started to go wrong..."

STP writes: "gaps in data are still important, and of course a reason for debate itself, such gaps can have within it the demise of the theory itself."

We agree. (The rise of "punctuated equilibrium" and the decline of anagenisis in evolutionary theory is a great example to learn from -- rooted as it was in new data that emerged within old gaps.)

STP writes: "create broad unity on the question [As the CPP and CPI (M) are leading us in doing], and begin "wrangling" (to borrow an Avakianism) on the question."

Well, on questions of truth and reality, clarity matters. And "broad unity" is no good, if the key matter at hand is deliberately fudged.

I am open to being struggled with, and perhaps I don't "get" the value you see in this declaration. But let me say this:

It is a document that says "We agree with and uphold Mao" -- and then, when they list what they agree with and uphold, it turns out to be a repudiation of Mao's key thesis, or at best a deliberate fudging of the difference between Mao's line and the opposing line.

In other words, this declaration upholds Mao in words (praising him to the skies over and over), and then deliberately fudges or disappears his main historic theoretical achievement in practice.

What is the value if THAT is what they are "leading us in doing"? What is the value of "broad unity" around that?

If these parties don't agree with Mao's defining thesis on restoration (i.e. that "the rise to power of revisionism is the rise to power of the bourgeoisie"), and if they want to argue for some version of the opposing thesis (that restoration is a long road with many nodal points, where the rise of revisionism and the establishment of capitalism are separate moments in te process) -- then why don't they make that argument.

Why not honestly put it forward as an obvious DISAGREEMENT they have with Mao?

That would be principled (and less slippery) -- and help people (and a whole new generation) see what is really on the table.

(This is, after all, a very very old question that goes back literally forty years in the ICM.)

Is there anyone here who can claim that this declaration (which claims to uphold Mao) is actually upholding Mao's thesis on the key question of restoration?

This is after all not a minor question. Nor is a question upon which Mao was unclear.

ShineTheRoad

Friend STP, I gots to agree with the RJohn – there's plenty to be mad about. Slow up and try to assume the good faith of people talking. I've seen you snap off a few times here on the wrong tangent, not just today you know. The jargon, too – man 'o man, it's kind of like tech talk but random.

Chicago

I am not going to respond to every contentious point in your two last tirades. I am not sure who you are addressing with some of your various points -- nor do I really care.

My point is not to elevate Hua, but to show how your earlier approach to history is contrived -- which it obviously is. You force events to fit a particular morality tale. You fetishize top party rank, formal power, to characterize why the removal of the gang of four was a coup. But, you do everything you can to fudge the point that the revisionists already were at the commanding heights prior to the gang's arrests and even prior to Mao's death. On the flipside, just because the gang had top ranks (if below Hua and company's) does not mean those ranks reflected the true state of Maoist power. You fetishize the coup, then you rely on Lotta's morality tale to prop it up (as though we have learned nothing more about the last years of Mao's life in 30 years since Lotta wrote). Your point about gaps is true enough, but nor should we fill the gaps in with what we wish to be the case either -- something the creationists also do.

We are in agreement when you now say that squabbling over dates is backward looking. That is my whole point. It is also why Lotta is a dogmatist. He turns everything into a morality tale of black and white and crafts history around that rather than looking at into anything that might suggest that the Maoists made mistakes. Any mistakes that the Maoists made is avoided in Lotta's approach because RCP's is not a scientific approach in the end.

Avakian and Lotta ain't gonna cut it anymore, Mr..

r. john

well perhaps we can get some clarity (at least over differences):

chicago writes: "My point is not to elevate Hua, but to show how your earlier approach to history is contrived -- which it obviously is."

Using the word "obviously" does not make it true. If it is contrived, show how.

Chicago writes: "you do everything you can to fudge the point that the revisionists already were at the commanding heights prior to the gang's arrests and even prior to Mao's death."

Not at all. On the contrary, this is my point, and Mao's thesis.

As mao warns that you are trying to make revolution but you don't know where the enemy it. It is those in high places still on the capitalist road.

Bukharin was not some low level functionary -- but led the party with Stalin through much of the 1920s. Liu was (as you know) leading the state and the economy, even while mao was alive. Lin headed the military and played a leading role in the GPCR. And Deng was (as we know) all over the state.

In other words, the revisionists are in the commanding heights, and the class struggle is raging there -- and this is the experience of socialism in the last century.

So i am not fudging that point, but insisting on it.

Chicago writes: "you rely on Lotta's morality tale to prop it up (as though we have learned nothing more about the last years of Mao's life in 30 years since Lotta wrote)."

Well my approach to things (including Ray's works) is study critically, test independently. I don't rely on his analysis -- but my own work suggests it holds up.

As for your second sentence: OK, I'll bite. What have we learned in the last 30 years about these events that is relevent? I would be eager to learn about new evidence that contradicts the core of Lotta's analysis. What is it?

Chicago writes: "We are in agreement when you now say that squabbling over dates is backward looking."

You have completely misunderstood what I wrote. (Is that somehow my fault?) My point is precisely that there is a world of difference between saying 1956 or 1965. And there is a world of difference between saying 1976 and 1978. Because these different assessments concentrate radically different views on what socialism is, on how capitalist restoration happens, and on what we have learned from previous fights to prevent it.

As for looking "into anything that might suggest Maoists made mistakes" -- clearly this should not be our approach.

Mao said that in making assessment we should not forget the difference between Yenan and Sian. (Yenan was the hq of the communists, and Sian was the HQ of the reactionary GMD). In other words, sure we should make criticisms of the Maoists -- but lets not on that basis equate the Maoists and the counterrevolutionaries.

I think there are things to sharply criticize about the method the RCP has adopted toward a number of things. But reversing verdicts on Mao and the GPCR and the 1976 coup is not one of them. Can you provide evidence as to why we should reverse those verdicts?

(I will not respond in kind when you refer to my posts as "tirades" or when you call me "Mr." I'll just point out it is infantile, and let others judge.)

r. john

i accidently wrote the opposite of what I meant:

I wrote:
As for looking "into anything that might suggest Maoists made mistakes" -- clearly this should not be our approach.

I meant to say:

As for avoiding looking "into anything that might suggest Maoists made mistakes" -- clearly this should not be our approach.

Clearly we need to be rather ruthless in critically examining the actions of previous communists -- to avoid repeating their mistakes, and to do better.

Denver

Hey, Chicago, you don't represent the whole city and you're not the only person from Chicago who posts here from time to time.

Please choose another name.

independentmaoist

I think that r. john is right that there have been (and still are) two opposing lines in what is loosely called the ICM on when the restoration of capitalism took place in the Soviet Union and China, and that the key to the question is understanding that the decisive victory of a revisionist line in the communist party (as occurred in 1956 and 1976) means that the proletariat has lost state power and a new bourgeoisie has seized power.

(At the same time, I still have questions about how the economic base and relations of production are transformed after the revisionists seize power. Does this happen immediately, or is it a "process" of some kind? I don't know as much about the Soviet Union, r. john, but how would you characterize the relationship between K's secret speech in 1956 and his military moves on the opposition in 1957?)

On the question of the Soviet Union, the Declaration is clearly wrong. In the 3rd para. it says, "The actions of the Soviet revisionists headed by Khrushchev...put the Soviet Union on the road of capitalist restoration." This leaves the question wide open about when that restoration finally took place.

On China, in the first para., the Declaration says that "the bourgeoisie seized power in 1976," and in the 14th para. it says that soon after Mao's death, "the enemies of the Chinese proletariat and people made a coup and reversed his proletarian revolutionary line in carrying out socialist revolution and construction." This doesn't say the coup in 1976 was followed by a period during which capitalism was restored, and it doesn't say that the removal of Hua in 1978 was the key turning point.

The fact that these conflicting formulations are found in the same document seems to reflect the existence of opposing views on this question among these parties and organizations that signed the Declaration ( e.g, the late signing RCP of Argentina claims that 1978 was the turning point in China). It may also be a general lack of clarity on this question and its importance among the drafters and signatories. Does anyone know if the CPI (Maoist) and the CPP have written about this question elsewhere?

DW

independentmaoist,

The CPP's main statement addressing what happened in the USSR is Stand for Socialism Against Modern Revisionism.

Christopher Day

While I commented earlier that I found the document tedious, I've found this discussion quite interesting and informative. I don't feel qualified to weigh in on the precise question of when to date the restoration of capitalism in China, but I do have some questions.

What of the following is correct and what is incorrect: When we talk about the rise of revisionism and the restoration of capitalism we are talking about two distinct if closely related phenomena. Revisionism is an (ostensibly pro-capitalist) ideological orientation or line that arises within the communist movement/party/state, while the restoration of capitalism involves a transformation in actual social relations. These are both processes in which pivotal events occur which influence each other. The persistence of capitalist relations in various areas or sectors nourishes revisionism and the political advances of revisionism facilitates policy changes that enlarge the area of capitalist relations. Some of this occurs incrementally and some of it occurs in leaps. So changes in personnel at the commanding heights of the party/state can represent the political consolidation of a process of transformation of social relations that, while already advanced, is not yet complete.

What strikes me in all this is the demobilization of the masses after 1968. If the most important battles are all taking place at the commanding heights, aren't the prospects for proletarian power (and therefore socialism) already essentially doomed? It seems here that the classic problem of the party substituting for the proletariat and the leadership substituting for the party can't help but set the satge for the restoration of capitalism.

The question I have is what the actual material basis of revisionism is? Is it location within particular sectors of the economy, particular strata within the party/state, or is it more elementary, that is to say in the basic relationship of the party/state to the masses? If the argument is that it is the former, what sort of empirical studies have been done of the political orientation of party/state personnel that supports this claim?

r. john

IM writes: “...there have been (and still are) two opposing lines in what is loosely called the ICM on when the restoration of capitalism took place in the Soviet Union and China, and that the key to the question is

understanding that the decisive victory of a revisionist line in the communist party (as occurred in 1956 and 1976) means that the proletariat has lost state power and a new bourgeoisie has seized power.”

Yes, we agree.

However, part of the issue is precisely “what is loosely called the ICM?”

As everyone here knows: throughout modern history, there have been forces that are “communists” and “socialists” in name only, and that (in reality) represent programs sharply opposed to revolution and the advance to classless society. This has been especially true where “communism” has had (for various historical reasons) a mass basis of support and respect – so that it is in the interests of even counterrevolutionaries (and even the bourgeoisie itself in socialist society) to put forward their views, programs, organizations and leaders as “communist.”

So how does one tell real from phony communism?

Part of that, in the realm of theory, is the identification of “cardinal questions” that are sufficiently important and far-reaching that they have emerged as such “dividing line questions.”

For example, the recognition the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat emerged as such a dividing line – after World War 1, when the communist movement emerged from “loose” social democracy, and when there now was a real existing socialist state to uphold, emulate or denounce.

The capitalist nature of the Soviet Union has been (historically) another such dividing line – clearly when Soviet troops (in 1968) were invading Czechoslovakia, and threatened Maoist China in the East, offering “support” to national movements (from Vietnam to Cuba and Africa), the class nature of the USSR was an inescapable issue for understanding the most basic events and dynamics of the world.

And part of what is posed by declarations like the one we are discussing is: what are the cardinal questions of our times? What should communists be uniting around (to form parties) – what divides communists who can lead revolution from phony communists whose rise to power would mean one kind of tyranny or another?

IM writes: “At the same time, I still have questions about how the economic base and relations of production are transformed after the revisionists seize power. Does this happen immediately, or is it a "process" of some kind? I don't know as much about the Soviet Union, r. john, but how would you characterize the relationship between K's secret speech in 1956 and his military moves on the opposition in 1957?”

I think these are important questions. And I will try to stir the pot.

Let me first deal with a distortion: I have often heard the Maoist analysis ridiculed as magical...:

“acting as if capitalism burst from Stalin’s last heartbeat,” or “acting as if mere words in some in some congress can reverse the class nature of the state and the achievements of forty years of socialism.”

This is a distortion – designed to paint Mao’s analysis as “idealist” by misrepresenting what that analysis is.

But there is a more substantive part of that critique: it is claimed that socialist relations are tenacious, that they are embedded in forms and institutions of society (especially forms of ownership) and so (therefore) can’t be overthrown without major (and obvious) transformations and disruptions, therefore probably without mass resistance (as the people realized that their beloved system was overthrown).

This was an argument that more-or-less united many kinds of anti-Maoist forces.

The Trotskyists have argued that “Maoists run the tape of reformism backwards – instead of a schema of peaceful transition to socialism, they postulate a peaceful transition to capitalism.”

And in opposition to that, the Trotskyists insisted that the Soviet Union had had a counterrevolutionary regime and dictatorship of a bureaucracy since 1924, but that the foundations of “a workers state” and the “victories of October” had never been overthrown.

This is the trotskyist concept of a “degenerated workers state” – i.e. that you can have post-capitalist social and economic relations even without a dictatorship of the proletariat for decades – like a decapitated chicken who keeps running on momentum and still-pumping blood.

And (coming from a different place) there were all kinds of forces that were “soft” on Soviet social-imperialism, who claimed (for decades after 1956) that the Soviet union has a “revisionist” leadership, but that it remained essentially socialist – because it still did not have private property ownership of the major means of production.

This was particularly popular among (essentially) nationalist forces (even if in Maoist coloration), who thought the Soviet Union was “revisionist” because it did not support their revolutionary struggles enough, but that it was “socialist” in that it still opposed the U.S. in various ways, and so provided them an umbrella under which stand.

And as Breshnev replaced Krushchev (and as the rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet blocs heated up through the 70s into the Reagan 80s) – there was a mini-stampede of formerly revolutionary (and even in some cases Maoist) forces to “rediscover” a socialist heart beating below the “imperialist policies” of the Soviet Union.

In theory, again, a key argument was that the key institutions of the USSR had not changed that much: they still had a communist party. They still had a central planning apparatus. They still had juridical state ownership of the land and means of production. They still opposed the U.S. and its allies. And so on.

In this view: the rise of revisionism meant a weakening or muddying or corrupting of socialist resolve, a softness. But it was not the restoration itself.

And part of this view represented a denial that you could have capitalism operating within a state-owned and planned economy. After all, capitalism is (in its essence) the private appropriation of social production, and it inevitably is expressed as a multiplicity of capitals operating in rivalry and competition (otherwise is not truly “private”).

I can’t do justice to either side of this whole debate and argument here.

But Maoism raised, I believe, solid and convincing answers to all of these questions.

First, Maoism does not believe that “capitalism sprang to life from Stalin’s last heartbeat” or from one speech (like Athena born in full armor from the head of Zeus).

There are two things here:

First, there is a contradictoriness of socialist relations themselves, that contain within their SOCIALIST character profound elements of class society and the basis for the enlargement of those elements (i.e. a return to capitalism). I.e. socialism, by its nature, repeatedly faces crossroads – where one road leads back to capitalism and another forward towards communism. And those objectively existing possibilities also mean that there emerge within the superstructure political representatives of those roads (with programs, chains of command, ideologies, leaders and headquarters) that fight it out politically over which road to take. I.e. the emergence of such forces is not the “fault” of the communist party. Nor is the emergence of situations where the revolution is in danger of being “drawn and quartered” (i.e. pulled in sharply different and opposing directions by objective conditions.)

{This, by the way, is the reason it is important to be "communist" not merely "socialist." To deliberately present socialism as your ultimate goal and defining banner means, in one way or another, to NOT understand the difficulty, complexity and importance of that transition -- it is to say "the transition is everything, the final goal is nothing.")

Second, there is the crucial degree and framework within which the revolutionary forces can influence this struggle over roads – the degree to which they can grasp, expose and oppose the restorationist forces.

There is the degree to which they succeed in mobilizing the masses to develop and defend “socialist new things” that uproot capitalist relations and prepare the ground for new communist relations. There are forms of struggle that transform the minds of people – “making them fit to rule” – as opposed to forms of struggle that treat reactionary politics-in-high-places as simply a criminal matter, and end up making the masses afraid to speak or act.

Capitalism in the USSR was quite strong under Stalin. (In the early stalin, private capitalism had a grip on agriculture and important parts of the industrial economy -- a problem he recognized. But with the late stalin came a powerful growth of capitalist lines and forces within the new socialist society -- including within its "socialised" industry -- something Stalin and his forces were much less clear on, to put it mildly).

Large parts of the society (in both base and superstructure) were under deeply revisionist lines (and in effect carrying out capitalist methods and relations).

This is generally true under socialism – and is part of its character as a transitional society. But it was especially true (and unnecessarily true!) in the Soviet Union – where there had not been previous experience with socialist transformation or capitalist restoration. Some revisionist lines (especially the more openly capitulationist lines associated with Trotsky and Bukharin) were subjected to sharp struggle. But others (tied to the theory of productive forces and waves of conservatization of life and orientation) were not understood or struggled with nearly to the extent possible.

Partuclarly under the pressure of world war (and because of the way the communists *chose* to respond) there was a reversal of many “correct verdicts” – on the woman question, on Russian nationalism, on egalitarianism and privilege, on the importance of revolution around the world, on the relative importance of production vs social transformation and so on.

So, to get back to your question: I think it is a protracted struggle throughout the socialist period, in which the seizure of power by the bourgeoisie is the key turning point, the watershed.

Before that moment, the revisionist and communist forces are fighting at the heights of power, in a wavelike process, and also fighting throughout society (in work and party units, in the military, in universities etc, in struggles that are deeply affected by the larger line struggles).

After that moment (and what defines that moment) is that the fight is essentially over. And the new bourgeoisie is now in overall command.

And one way or another, this means that the revolutionary forces are no longer in command, and are “out of the game" at that level.

(One western researcher writes that in the 80s traveling in a remote region of Tibet, he met a shepherd who asked him to send word to Lhasa and on to Beijing that the revisionists had taken over his county. That Maoist shepard was still "carrying on" but did not know that the decisive struggle had gone down a decade before and there were no revolutionaries in Beijing to report to.)

Lenin wrote that all dividing lines in nature and society are relative and conditions. Take the “interface” between the atmosphere and the water: study show that there is a dividing real line, but if you zoom in you find that it is not perfect or simple. There is sublimation of water to the air, there is diffusion of air in the water, etc.

Similarly in the USSR there was a clear dividing line, historically, but obviously if you zoom in that you find the details are not simple or clearcut. (What was Malenkov? Like Hua, a "transitional figure” whose career and program merely helped usher in the full restoration? How revolutionary really was Molotov (who stayed in the now social-imperialist party after losing power, and whose criticisms of both Stalin and Krushchev showed great weaknesses of understanding compared to either Mao or the Four)?

But I think that sorting all that through (not here!), one can say that there is a powerful argument to be made that the 20th congress represented both a statement of the seizure of power AND the key moment itself.

Khrushchev made his big move (there). His speech was upheld – as supportative forces congealed around it. And afterwards there were a series of “mopping up operations” – that included the rather major confrontation with the Molotov group.

Again: the larger political point does not rest on the micro details of this or that event. We don’t know (and may never know) all the key events from Stalin’s death until (say) the Kosygin reforms of 1965.

However, if you look at the larger picture, it is hard to overestimate what a dividing line that 20th Congress was – for the ICM, for the Soviet Union, for the masses of people.

* * * * *

Just a few example (out of many possible ones) that DON'T involve macro-policy:

I read the memoir of Vladimir Bukowsky (one of those Soviet era dissidents who opposed the revisionist communist party and advocated western-style reforms.)

In his 1978 samidat book “To Build a Castle" (a reference to his mind game in prison), he describes the shattering impact of the 20th congress on school children of his generation – how they lost all sense of purpose, how they felt betrayed and rootless, how their socialist hopes and aspirations were suddenly shattered, with only material promises of refrigerators and “peace” to take their place. He talked about them forming political fighting squads among themselves, and not knowing who to fight or what to fight for.

Or from another side, Sheila Fitzpatrick wrote a revealing scholarly book called “Everyday life in Stalinist Russia” – where she described how (and I’m again obviously paraphrasing and simplifying), despite the intense difficulties and hardships of the thirties and forties, ordinary people repeatedly talked about how they felt they were fighting, together, for something – for a better world for humanity, for a future worth having…. And how after the fifties, all that was shattered, and in its place came an empty consumerism, and sense of atomization, and purposelessness.

Or you can take the experience of the international movement (or even just the CPUSA) – where the 1956 events (and Krushchev’s supposedly "secret speech" on Stalin, which was leaked to the New York Time) shattered the party, and scattered its forces in demoralization.

I am not upholding the CPUSA before 1956, or prettifying the Soviet Union of the thirties and forties.

My point is this: The twentieth congress represented a massive watershed in the world and in the Soviet Union. One of those moments where there is a “before” and “after.”

Afterwards, Soviet military doctrine was radically rewritten (to rely on nukes and technology).

Afterwards, a radically different approach was taken toward the third world – where revolution is systematically and openly opposed, and bourgeois governments are courted as potential client states of a new global empire.

I’ll stop there.

* * * * *

Capitalism did not magically emerge “out of nowhere” in 1956.

Mao was right that it proved “quite easy to rig up a capitalist system” – because large swathes of society were operating under revisionist/capitalist lines (and could be congealed and transformed into a far more coherent overall capitalist system relatively easily.)

To the shock of communists all over the world, capitalist restoration did NOT require a break of state planning, or of state ownership to create capitalism. Stalin was wrong that the internal basis of restoration has been elminated by the late 30s.

This first experience with restored capitalism required a new scientific conclusion that was unexpected: that capitalism could function within the juridical framework of state ownership. The law of value could dominate state planning. And the “manyness of capital” could operate through the separateness of the many “ministries” (which became defacto corporations contending for investment)and through the rivalry with other imperialist state formations .

And the turning point was the moment when overall state power was lost – after a sharp struggle over general line focused within the communist party itself.

Thanks

A friend and I were talking this morning about the legnth of posts here. She said it was impossible to keep up. I disagree, some of the time like here. This is a valuable service and I thank you all for taking the time to do more that spout off. I've been haunting this discussion, even if I don't feel I have much to add. Thank you for dealing with this, and to R. John for addressing the importance of what he calls cardinal questions in historical context.

r. john

Chris writes: “While I commented earlier that I found the document tedious, I've found this discussion quite interesting and informative.”

I too have found this discussion thought provoking. And I think you are digging into some crucial questions (not just for this discussion but for the transition to communism.)

Chris writes: “What of the following is correct and what is incorrect: When we talk about the rise of revisionism and the restoration of capitalism we are talking about two distinct if closely related phenomena. Revisionism is an (ostensibly pro-capitalist) ideological orientation or line that arises within the communist movement/party/state, while the restoration of capitalism involves a transformation in actual social relations. These are both processes in which pivotal events occur which influence each other.”

Without going into a tangent: Revolution is a process by which ideas in the minds of humans transform previously existing reality.

Mao points out that ideas grasped by the people become a powerful material force.

And the line of a movement is therefore not “just ideas” – hovering as tinsel over the “important” things (which are actions, tactics and program).

Ideas in the minds of human beings are crucial to the process of revolution. And the transformation of world outlook (of the masses and of the cadre) is crucial to their ability to be “fit to rule.”

Mao said the *target* of the GPCR was those in power taking the capitalist road. But the *goal* of the GPCR was the transformation of world outlook.

Chris writes: “The persistence of capitalist relations in various areas or sectors nourishes revisionism and the political advances of revisionism facilitates policy changes that enlarge the area of capitalist relations. Some of this occurs incrementally and some of it occurs in leaps. So changes in personnel at the commanding heights of the party/state can represent the political consolidation of a process of transformation of social relations that, while already advanced, is not yet complete.”

This essentially jibes with my understanding – with some particular additions.

The “persistence of capitalist relations” has held two meanings historically: First there are the continuing existence of capitalist ownership and exchange. The agriculture in NEP Russia was literally rooted in private ownership – and was an arena dominated by capitalism (even as the society was overall led by a socialist line in a communist direction.) Capitalist relations in those forms were essentially eliminated in the soviet union – no one legally owned farm land, or a factory, or even a shop.

However capitalist relations “persist” in another major way: including (as JB noted) within socialism itself, in its inherent and defining contradictoriness.

The recognision of this second feature is what is new in Maoism (and represents a major and historic leap over the understanding of Stalin). Stalin thought that when legally private ownership was abolished that antagonistic (internal) classes were gone. When counterrevolutionary forces emerged he assumed (and announced) that they could only be “foreign agents” – after all, what other capitalist class could they be serving? It was mechanical thinking and formal logic rooted in a false and primitive assumption.

But it was a mistaken thesis that only became overturned once restoration had happened – and once Mao could analyze that its agents were not “former landlords and foreign spies”, but rather a new bourgeoisie within the party and state. A bourgeoisie not rooted in the margins of surviving shopkeepers and grumbling expropriated tsarists... but rooted in and emerging from the stark contradictoriness of socialism itself.

This is a view that posits a profound fragility to socialism (as opposed to the revisionist view that assumes a robustness resting on the continuation of specific institutions and ownership forms.)

More minor point: it is not mainly the change of "personnel" that is key. After all Deng was not new "personnel," neither was Zhukov (who led the Soviet War effort) or Krushchev (who ruled the Ukraine before the war, and large parts of society afterwards). It is the consolidating at the heights of power of the restorationist line -- brought forward by the bourgeois headquarters (which is made of well-known and well-entrenched personnel.)

* * * * *

“On the Social Basis Of The Lin Piao Antiparty Clique,” the famous essay by Yao (one of the Four” get into that (and the Shanghai Political Textbook takes it to another level of clarity and explicitness).

http://www.neue-einheit.com/international/china/1975--lin-piao-clique--english.htm

Yao says: “The existence of bourgeois influence, and of the influence of international imperialism and revisionism, constitutes the political and ideological source of the new bourgeois elements. And the existence of bourgeois right provides an important economic foundation for their emergence.”

He then quotes key passages from Lenin and Mao in order to elucidate:

Lenin said:

". . . in the first phase of communist society (usually called socialism) 'bourgeois right' is not abolished in its entirety, but only in part, only in proportion to the economic revolution so far attained, i.e., only in respect of the means of production."

"However, it continues to exist as far as its other part is concerned; it continues to exist in the capacity of regulator (determining factor) in the distribution of products and the allotment of labor among the members of society. The socialist principle: 'He who does not work, neither shall he eat,' is already realized; the other socialist principle: 'An equal amount of products for an equal amount of labor,' is also already realized. But this is not yet communism, and it does not yet abolish 'bourgeois right,' which gives to unequal individuals, in return for unequal (actually unequal) amounts of labor, equal amounts of products."

Chairman Mao said:

". . . China is a socialist country. Before liberation, she was much the same as a capitalist country. Even now she practices an eight-grade wage system, distribution according to work and exchange through money, and in all this differs very little from the old society. What is different is that the system of ownership has been changed."

"Our country at present practices a commodity system, the wage system is unequal, too, as in the eight-grade wage scale, and so forth. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat such things can only be restricted."

* * * * *

Chris writes: “What strikes me in all this is the demobilization of the masses after 1968. If the most important battles are all taking place at the commanding heights, aren't the prospects for proletarian power (and therefore socialism) already essentially doomed?”

First of all, I agree with you that the relative demobilization of the masses creates difficult and dangerous conditions for a struggle that is already difficult and dangerous.

In the Soviet Union, it was assumed that after expropriation the basic transformation had occurred. And the masses were no longer needed to carry on the revolution – except as fighters in the frontline of production (and then world war).

The fight against “traitors, saboteurs, white guards etc.” was conducted as a police affair – and the simple fact was that being politically active could (and often did) get you caught up in some deadly bullshit (you could easily lose your head). And so, as the thirties wore on (and as the original revolutionary generation aged), the “revolutionary people” upon which the advances had rested faded, and new successors did not emerge except as cadre for the state, military and production.

There was a passivity to the masses, an avoidance of politics, as sense that it was too dangerous and was better left to specialists and “the bosses.” And a notorious acceptance of “whatever-ism” crept in (both among the masses and among the cadre, among whom careerists and cynics multiplied.)

These were terrible conditions for the survival of a revolutionary communist movement – and they were tied to a number of causes (including among them the mistaken notion of how new bourgeois forces can emerge under socialism and a complete lack of appreciation of, as Mao put it, the burning needs to “expose our dark side openly and from below” and to mobilize the masses, consciously, against those in power “taking the capitalist road” and also to solve the problem of world outlook among the masses, to make them “fit to rule.”)

And yes, it was a problem in china that the storms of mass upheaval had to be “called of” in 1968, before key questions of power and world outlook had been solved in a decisive way.

I don’t think it is simple, because you can’t have society in permanent insurrection conditions and turmoil without it falling apart (literally).

And by 1968. two years of historically unprecedented turmoil had accomplished a lot (and also created a great deal of mess that needed to be cleaned up).

You need both revolution and consolidation, in order to advance. And there were also in 1968, real and growing threats of Soviet military attack – i.e. we don’t just live in a world where there is an “internal bourgeoisie” to fight, but where those classes draw great strength from the “external bourgeoisie” – including in what the imperialists force socialist countries to do in defense.

And Mao tried, after 1968, to mobilize the masses in many ways – within the framework of continuing production and defense – including in major political and ideological campaigns (like the “Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius campaign). The slogan “grasp revolution, promote production” represented both a general principle – but also an attempt to create a framework where the mass aspect of the revolution could CONTINUE, but where the basis needs of reproducing and developing society could be taken care of.

Your second sentence poses a question: “If the most important battles are all taking place at the commanding heights, aren't the prospects for proletarian power (and therefore socialism) already essentially doomed?”

I think the answer is no.

The most important battles weren’t taking place in the “commanding heights” because of ANYONE’S subjective decisions. That is objectively where they take place, where the battle is objectively concentrated.

Of course, if you lose the battle of Stalingrad, and Moscow falls, then the decisive battle took place against Hitler, and not in your central committee.

But there remains, in the central committee and its inner cores, the key area of class struggle – where the representatives of revolutionary communism are repeatedly confronted with the forces and programs of restorationism.

This is inherent within socialism (or so we learned from Mao’s summation of the experiences in USSR and China.)

And the problem-to-be-solved is: how do we win there, over and over, in the heights of power?

How do we deal with the inevitable situations where the masses are exhausted or confused, when they want a breather and some normalcy?

How do we deal with those moments when the masses (mobilized around the understandings of one period) don’t fully grasp the issues and dangers of the new period?

How do we enable the masses throughout society to learn to differentiate genuine from false Marxism – to differentiate a restorationist line from a revolutionary line – so that the revolutionary communists leading the party and state are not isolated and crushed at key points?

Because without that ideological training and consciousness, forged in real class struggle not just pedagogy and patient education, even “mass mobilization” leads backward, not forward.

Sure the masses were “mobilized” in 1966-68 – but clearly they were mobilized behind all kinds of very different lines, even if most were nominally “under the banner of Mao.”

Chris writes: “It seems here that the classic problem of the party substituting for the proletariat and the leadership substituting for the party can't help but set the stage for the restoration of capitalism.”

This is an old question for us, as you know. But my view is that it is a problem of the representational nature of politics – the problem of connecting vanguard forces conscious of the interests of the masses, with the (unreified!) masses themselves.

The struggle isn’t concentrated at the heights of power because someone substituted for someone.

It is concentrated there because the issue of “advance to communism or not” is a matter of what OVERALL policies and lines are carried out through the society (led by the party and the state).

If you think these problems can be settled at the plant level, or at the street demo level, or in classrooms – and if you think they can be solved by "mobilization" apart from the struggles in the party -- then you need to explain how.

* * * * *

That is the controversial point for many in the movie “Breaking with old ideas” – one worth struggling through:

The masses of that college struggle for clarity and for victory, but still it is of decisive importance (for their struggle, but more importantly for the country and revolution as a whole) that *the center* comes through for them.

In the movie (and in reality) the (provisional) victory comes when the center sends support.

(And quite a few among us went "whoa, what happened to the masses are the makers of history? Why did they need permission to be right?")

This is not some subjective act of “substituting for the masses.” It is an expression of the inevitable real world dialective of this:

where the center and its state is the concentration of how the masses rule, and where the increasing ability of the masses to discern line provides the crucial basis for a revolutionary line to continue to rule.

There is no other way. And there is a complex dialectic between the consciousness and initiative of the masses, and the ability to hold overall state power.

And we need to do better than ever before (even better than the Maoists china, and obviously much better than in the USSR).

We need to learn from China, the way Mao learned from the USSR.

* * * * *

Chris writes: “The question I have is what the actual material basis of revisionism is? Is it location within particular sectors of the economy, particular strata within the party/state, or is it more elementary, that is to say in the basic relationship of the party/state to the masses? If the argument is that it is the former, what sort of empirical studies have been done of the political orientation of party/state personnel that supports this claim?”

I think that it is wrong to situate the material basis within “the bureaucracy.”

This is a familiar and even common theory, but one opposed to the whole experience and theory of Mao and the GPCR. And (I believe) it does not correspond with reality.

As society (worldwide) is in transition, there are objective limits to how far society can be transformed at each point – and there are objective ways that class relations remain. (Wages, the need for standing armies, unequal grades of pay, etc.)

the material base for this is the state of the transition, the objective existence of capitalist relations both in the world (where they will remain dominant for a while) and within the socialist country(ies) where it deeply marks the socialist relations themselves.

(Those are the MATERIAL BASES. there are also ideological bases, but we aren't talking about that here!))

The continued existence of the contradiction between the state/party and the masses forms part of that material basis on which restoration can happen – but as part of the more general nature of socialist relations as a whole.

zerohour

r. john says: "Your second sentence poses a question: “If the most important battles are all taking place at the commanding heights, aren't the prospects for proletarian power (and therefore socialism) already essentially doomed?”

I think the answer is no."

I thought the question could point in other directions, perhaps unintended. How was this class struggle playing out "on the ground"? What were the masses doing while these struggles were being played out in the Central Committee? They may not have been mobilized by the Party but were they completely inactive?

r. john then says: "If you think these problems can be settled at the plant level, or at the street demo level, or in classrooms – and if you think they can be solved by "mobilization" apart from the struggles in the party -- then you need to explain how.

The point isn't that these questions can be resolved exclusively in "the street" but we could still learn from seeing how the masses wrangle with these contradictions.

So far, the masses are only referred to in terms of mobilization from the top. Doesn't this create the sense that the masses are inert, passive material waiting to be politically activated by the Party? Perhaps all they really are doing is just going about "everyday life", but has anyone even thought to explore the contradictions from this angle?

r. john

zerohour writes: "Doesn't this create the sense that the masses are inert, passive material waiting to be politically activated by the Party? "

I certainly hope not.

But if you have a country like china, with over half a billion people, and you launch a struggle for power....

Clearly you need an overall direction and headquarters, or nothing good will happen.

Saying that does not mean that the masses are inert, passive, or just "material" that is waiting around.

And in fact they are not merely "going about everyday life"either -- because "where there is oppression there is resistance."

there is both the pull of "every day life" (which weighs as a deadly weight on the advanced and the active, as most of us have seen!) And there is also the constant phenom of the masses rising to struggle, confronting their tormentors, seeking philosophy and politics for liberation (and conversely, for consolation).

But I believe that the experience of history is that socialist revolutions don't just "happen." They are made (meaning they are organized and led, and wouldn't "happen" if they were not consciously organized and lead). This was a major dividing line between Luxembourg (and the other German lefts) and Lenin -- they really thought on many levels, that their responsibility was to inflame, encourage, support and educate the masses, but that the making of revolution did not require close or active leadership (of a Leninist kind).

JB

These aren't just "old issues" – they are the problematization of the revolutionary process, and a struggle to understand what the nature of contradictions are in revolutionary societies... and movements today.

Here's the trick, as I see it:

Is the world revolution, the epochal change to socialism and communism, going to simply happen under the banner of correct ideas?

This is a different question than whether such things exist.

Are forces first and foremost to be judged by their ideological colors and geneology, or by the correctness or incorrectness of their line, social base and practice?

Or, as one comrade put it in a discussion, "I'd rather lose with the Zapatistas than win with the revisionists."

The word "revisionism" does not adequately deal with the problems, it can be a descriptive, but generally serves as a simple pejorative that covers far too much ground to be (generally) accurate and useful.

Going back to the decisive breaks, Leninism and Maoism were revisions of Marxism – sharp ones, in fact. I know this is different from the classical, open revisionism of the European social-democrats or the treason of the Kruschevites and their progenitors.

Here's another way of putting it, I don't think the question of contending ideological lines in the commanding heights of the state is a simple matter of palace intrigue or "ideas".

Socialism is a not a simple distination, even if it is a revolutionary break from the dominance of capitalist (or feudal) relations in every sphere.

As was pointed out, commodity production continued in one form or another – including where all industry and agriculture was nationalized. The Post Office, Amtrak and the NYC subway system are state-owned and managed, but this isn't "halfway to socialism". It's state management of capitalist enterprises.

Why this is easy to understand here, but confusing in a country that calls itself socialist, I'm not sure. We know that there was "back and forth" in China and the Soviet Union, and we also know that 1956 and 1976 are the decisive breaks between states that were essentially socialist and ones which were not.

In other words, there will never be a communist resurgence from within the Chinese Communist Party. For example, or in the CPUSA or (sorry, FRSO) SACP.

What's sticking in R. John's teeth, I think, is (dominant) call to liquidate or fudge the difference between the capitalist and the communist road; to deny their fundamental contradiction, or even class struggle under socialism (which this document does not do) is to embrace "goulash communism" and the alienated, deficient consumerism of "peaceful coexistence". Soviets plus electricity? Sure... if you actually have soviets, lol.

This conflation is to to embrace revisionism in practice – or to dangerously flirt with it.

That's the meta-discussion, and the best place to see where that leads is to the Sam Marcy/Ludo Martens theories about Stalin, "Global Class War" and the intentional conflation of reactionaries, revisionists and revolutionaries.

They will "uphold" revolutionary movements, while in the next breath acting as role models for opportunism by denying the crimes of the Baath fascists, denying the openly proclaimed program of Islamic theocracy, or working backwards from anti-imperialism to a kneee-jerk historiography that acts as if the primary contradiction stripped everything else of reality.

Do we need to just get everyone in one big room and "refound" the movement? Is that desirable or possible, especially when we consider who "everyone" is and what they are really about?

It would let the worst set the level, and instead of "broadening" the movement would consign it to what the would-be socialist managerial class has or aspires to.

I mean, I know these people. I worked briefly on a leading revisionist publication. They support capitalism, don't think imperialism is a key problem – and uphold the implementation of neo-liberalism by South Africans. They also hated Glasnost and Peristroika because it destroyed the class they aspire to!

Reading over the CPP document that DW linked above, they went through some self-criticism for their (almost) shift towards the Soviet camp right before they tanked. It's worth reading about the particular issues they faced.

Maybe the issue isn't simply state ownership, dispossession of the petit bourgeoisie and monopoly on public culture. I'm sure it's not.

Same with the persistance of institutional forms. Cuba formally had no bourgeoisie or petit bourgeoisie – but they did, it just took and takes predominantly, though less and less, state forms.

The masses of people there, even through their national-revolutionary process, didn't have anything approaching agency. They were "mobilized", always a give-away word when it comes to the thinking of communists. If it is simply mobilization, not conscious participation – then it can be turned on and off like a faucet, because it was never really there in the first place.

On the other hand, as R. John mentions in criticism of our old sister Rosa Luxemburg, the masses actually need leading centers, media, think tanks and so on – which won't just spring out of think air, let alone the "mind of Stalin" or the temple of Zeus.

This.. here... is where an emphasis and development of Mass Line theory is crucial for the consolidation of Revolutionary Communist forces here and around the world.

Without a dialectical, and dialogic, relationship between these initially self-appointed leading forces and the great masses of oppressed people – we will have either populism or left authoritarianism, neither of which allows for, cultivates or enlarges the realm of unalienated social activity, productive or otherwise.

Without the Mass Line – and an understanding of what that is – we will merely argue about decisions made at "the heights" where they have detached from what makes even those "correct ideas" have legs.

One other thing, worth mentioning, is that in the Maoist emphasis on the "correctness or incorrectness of line determines everything" is that these ideas really do have a material basis. Without fighting tooth-and-nail against the objectification of the masses through the revoutionary process, we will actually be doomed to a repetition of past mistakes.

We know class struggle continues under socialism. We know restoration has mainly happened from within the communist party – and that in most cases it wasn't even a real fight.

It was with Mao, the conscious fight against revisionism and reaction, for popular agency through the Mass Line and with the explicit goal of communism that we can even have this discussion.

Many, many revolutionary-minded people and even communists know next to nothing about class struggle under socialism. We are so buried by the tyranny of the daily grind, and the ideological assault on even the notion of a better world that we've played defense on the bourgeoisie's terms for too long... citing the "exageration" of Stalin's crimes or the "complexity" of the Great Leap Forward.

Instead, we do need some histories with both veracity and depth – particularly of the Stalin Era and the entire history of socialist China – from 1949 to 1976.

As of now, we do not. Hopefully the insurgence of revolutionary communism in South Asia will provide some living laboratories.

This was all over the map, but if you made it this far – I guess it wasn't so bad.

celticfire

JB raises a lot of vital points, and much of this discussion has me interested in going back to Bettelheim, especially in The Great Leap Backward, where he says the "leap backward" was due to the relation of forces between classes and political line imposed by the ruling elite.

Perhaps the commanding heights was just was one arena of class struggle- is it not mechanical to think the pinnacle arena for class struggle is ever only at a commanding height? R.john has pointed to the many contradictions within the top, but JB has pointed out, as well as others, where were the masses in this power grab?

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