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March 09, 2006


Happy Flowers

Linking to North Korean video is no fair...


Well, it's a sticky situation. CNN aired a video showing how oppressive the DPRK is (big shock.) It was obvious propaganda, and pretty low-level for American propaganda, but it had a purpose: to create public opinion about North Korea, and prepare for invasion.

North Korea is a fuedalist monarchy. Big shock! But how we as communist oppose this fuedalism, while at the same time oppose U.S. imperialism?

I think this is very related to how communists view Islamic countries and the situation in Iraq. It is a complex question that plays up and down the class structures.

Christopher Day

Fucking USA with a bullet!!!

I must confess that I know precious little about the DPRK aside from what I have gotten from pro-imperialist media. Of course it doesn't look good: apparent rule by lineage, famine, and unintentionally campy propaganda. But social reality is usually not quite so simple. If we are supposed to resist the crude calumnies against Stalin, why not Kim Jong Il? Are there alternative analyses of the DPRK out there other than simple-minded fawning propaganda? And even if things have degenerated in North Korea is there any time in its history that it should be upheld as being on the socialist road? Difficult as it is for me to resist the temptations to make jokes at Dear Leader's exprense I'm asking this in all seriousness.


Ask the CPP, they seem to know.

Is there any point at which the mullah of Iran have been socialist? Is Sh'ite Islamism a form of ML?

Creo que no.

A militarized population, entirely for life, is not socialism. It's scary is what it is, scarier when revolutionaries make supportive comments and don't ask even the questions Chris has.

I don't know fuck all about life in North Korea, anymore than I know about life in Poland today, frankly. But... I know revolutionary leaders don't decend from heaven. I know "the General's Love" is not inside flowers for children.

I know that's not the kind of world I'm fighting for.


Ah yes, I remember the full page ad that north Korea took out in the New York Times when Kim Jong Il took over leadership of the Workers Party of Korea and the north Korean state. It seems they could have benefited from a better translator and from some public relations folks who are more familiar with U.S. culture and with what would go over well here, for sure.

But Burningman is not just digging at poor translations or clumsy P.R. His main points are that (1) north Korea is not a socialist country, and (2) he is expressing surprise that the Communist Party of the Philippines would send a positive birthday greeting to Kim Jong Il, the head of the Workers Party of Korea and the north Korean state. In that greeting north Korea is referred to as a socialist country.

It's terribly easy for media-savvy leftists in the U.S. to poke fun at north Korea due to their propaganda which is certainly clumsy in the context of our media/advertising-saturated culture. But clumsy propaganda tells us nothing about the production relations in north Korea or whether the law of value is in command there or not. I mean, if you want to say that north Korea is not socialist, those seem like things that should at least get mentioned.

So if you want to have that discussion, let's have it. I'm eager to learn more about north Korea too. Comments about Kim Jong Il's fashion sense and Beastie Boys-influenced digs on his name may get chuckles but can't substitute for real analysis. I've read a few theoretical documents by the Workers Party of Korea that show that they think and talk about what they are doing in terms of Marxism-Leninism, anti-revisionism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc. That is not evidence that north Korea is a socialist country any more than a hammer and sickle on a flag is. But it should cause communists to want to make a more serious analysis of what’s going on there.

As to the claim that north Korea is essentially a monarchy, it seems at least in a formal sense I think you may have more ground to stand on. I don't know their constitution in terms of what it says about leadership succession. One thing I read by them said that their summation of Khrushchev’s criticisms of Stalin at the CPSU's 20th Congress and the rise of revisionist line to power under Khrushchev, was that attacks on the party's leader are used to sneak in revisionism and therefore attacks on the party leader are bad. You can see where they've taken that since then. They clearly place a large emphasis on the role of the 'great leader'. It is interesting to note historically that the root of that came from a criticism of the revisionist turn in the USSR under Khrushchev.

Does the fact that Kim Jong Il replaced his father Kim Il Sung mean the country is a “red monarchy”? Again, I'd like to learn more about how the Workers Party of Korea chooses their leadership, what north Korea's constitution says, etc.

But even if it is constitutionally etched in stone in north Korea that the Kim family will lead the Workers Party of Korea and the north Korean state, this would not be a good thing in my opinion but it still does not make the case that north Korea is not a socialist country. Again, if you can't point to a capitalist class that has overall power or if you don't talk about production relations or the law of value, you have not convinced me that north Korea is not socialist. Just saying that it’s “beyond you” what north Korea has to do with socialism is not convincing.

If imperialism has been driven out, and the class that had power before the revolution has been overthrown and has not been allowed to return to power, and if the state led by a Marxist-Leninist party controls the means of production (i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat), then I think the burden of proof is on critics to explain why that's not socialism (even given the above factors, it’s still possible that it may not be socialist, but the burden of proof is on those who say it’s not, in my opinion).

North Korea may not look like the socialism you'd like to create. It surely has deep contradictions and problems, as all socialist countries do by definition. But what are the production relations and does a capitalist class hold power? If so what’s your proof?

As for the Communist Party of the Philippines saluting Kim Jong Il on his birthday, I agree that statement is interesting but it’s not surprising that they send a statement to the Workers Party of Korea. Both parties attend the Belgium seminars so it’s not strange that they would have some interactions / relations. To me it's more interesting that in the letter the CPP explicitly talks about north Korea as socialist. I haven’t noticed that from them before. That also should give one pause to consider that maybe north Korea does not fit into a cookie cutter analysis borrowed from an assessment of the USSR or China, as I think it’s likely that the leadership of the CPP knows a bit more about north Korea than most or probably all of us writing here.

The CPP statement seems consistent with their general approach on international relations – which seems to be to build unity to the highest degree possible with forces that self-describe as ML and MLM. It is consistent with seeing a broader International Communist Movement that includes parties that previously belonged to different trends. Their approach is a positive step away from an ultraleft approach of defining the ICM as just the parties and countries that agree with your particular assessments of debates within the ICM.


The main academic source that is worth reading about Korea is Bruce Cummings. See:

See his books on here:

He is critical of north Korea but actually analyzes the situation there, and importantly he is clear that the U.S. deserves the main blame for the Korean War, the division of Korea, and the ongoing situation in Korea over the last 50 years.

Read the comments about his book "North Korea: Another Country" on Amazon for some interesting discussion:

Christopher Day

At risk of oversimplification, the implicit definition of socialism advanced by my friend and comrade, leftspot seems to be:

ML party in power + no law of value + unspecified production relations = dicatorship of the proletariat = socialism.

Is this adequate? It seems to me that this is precisely where the question of popular agency comes in. While production relations may offer an important clue as to the development of popular agency, the critical question in my mind remains: are the masses taking increasing control the whole direction of society? Are they more and more conscious participants in making and carrying out the decisions that effect their lives. Popular agency here is not to be regarded as an apriori fixed yardstick by which we measure a particular society, but rather an emergent quality that has to be judged processually and relationally.

the burningman


You've fallen neatly into my trap, LeftSpot. Vague, leading statements left open for the picking. LOL.

You've put forward a few theories on what it is that distinguishes socialism from other societies:

1) The Law of Value: It's come up in the discussions of the Stalin Era, with many (including myself) seeing it as a dividing line there. Anyone care to take a stab at explaining it?

2) That making a claim of Marxism-Leninism is sufficient, in a sense, and that critics bear the burden of "proof" that given parties and states don't live up to it.

3) That the economic base, not political forms of rule is the key distinction... and...

4) That the Sino-Soviet split never happened: in other words that we should (essentially) pretend that there is no fundamental distinction between Marxism-Leninism (Maoism?) and revisionism.

5) Implicitly that a "capitalist class" would be formally contituted as such, despite the well-known (in these parts) history of "capitalist classes" constituting on a state-management basis within communist parties in the former Soviet Union, China -- and even places like South Africa.

Look, we know how the DRPK selects their leaders: Kim Jong Il flew down from heaven. That's what they say anyway.

Reading constitutions tells you about the vocabulary of regime, not who holds power. In this case, when leaders are openly compared to divinities, inherit power from their fathers, and create fully militarized societies under the love of a "dear general," then I can forgive my general ignorance on their market planning mechanisms. Maybe you can't, but I'm not mechanical in the sense that state monopolies on land, industry & culture = the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not at all.

In the case of the CPP, which is leading a People's War to increasingly great effect in their country -- I'm concerned that they don't see the difference between the people coming to power and a monarchy that treats the people as cogs in a "greater" machine.

Your note about the CPP's international networks, specifically the Belgian revisionists and Stalinists, is exactly why I've posted this. The argument can start here with Korea, but it extends.

What exactly is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine?

What is the FARC in Colombia?

What line does the FMLN represent, and in particular their former leader Shafik Handel?

What are the (red/brown) Stalino-Leninist parties of Eastern Europe?

Does "revisionism" exist or is investigating that in and of itself "ultra-left?"

You call upholding revolutionary communism ultra-left and I think argue for a basic blurring of the line on this cardinal question. On one hand you want a more materialist analysis, regarding mode of production, etc. On the other, you think that the former Soviet Union was socialist under Breznev. No?

How can anti-revisionists argue over the nature of the state, popular agency, People's War, etc. if they DON'T form centers built on unity of (correct!) line in the international movement?

Is our responsibility to mollify potention allies, or interrogate the tendency of line?

A thimble of piss in a glass of port is a little too vinegar for me. In this case, a thimble of port in a glass of piss is just undrinkable.

To refuse these distinctions is to demand a basis of unity set by the worst forces. That, combined with the universal pulls of locally-variated opportunism would create an ICM without a communist backbone. It would twist in the wind, just like the FMLN and PFLP did with the loss of their international sponsors (and in some cases directors).

I'm not against engaging different sections of what calls itself the ICM -- and I don't think the MLM forces internationally are either.

I also think you tell quite a bit from "clumsy propaganda." The issue isn't the quality of execution, but the content promoted.

the gist

Burningman writes; "By maintaining fraternal relations with both revolutionary movements and revisionist networks, the CPP is not contributing as they could to a decisive break with the prevalence of revisionism inside what calls itself the communist movement. Maybe in this case Juche means that "truth" somehow respects operational turf, I mean "national borders."

Fair point. No?


Yeah, burningman, I decided to give you the pleasure of taking the bait on north Korea. Let's have some fun here, huh?

I agree with Christopher, there is more to socialism (and particularly whether it will continue to be socialism and deepen toward communism) than just the bottom line of, as he neatly formulates it: "ML party in power + no law of value + unspecified production relations = dicatorship of the proletariat = socialism."

Yes, there's more to it than that.

But that said, Marxism at base defines socialism by relations of production, no?

Let's look at a couple of interesting examples.

You can have a country (say, Venezuela for example) that has a socialist president who is anti-imperialist and puts lots of money to help uplift and to mobilize the poor. In my opinion Marxists should support Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution (especially those of us in the US), but we should be clear that Venezuela is still a capitalist country even though the president is subjectively a socialist. It is in the process of some dynamic changes right now, that could be summed up as a national democratic revolution that may make a leap to become a socialist revolution at some point. But Venezuela still overall has capitalist production relations, the means of production are mostly in the hands of private capitalists, so it is still a capitalist country. Marxists should be clear that Venezuela will not be a socialist country without a qualitative transformation of the ownership of the means of production and the relations of production.


So there are capitalist countries that are inspiring to leftists (because of the dynamic motion to the process there). There is the hope that Venezuela may at some point make a qualitative leap to socialism.

From the opposite point of view, looking at a country like north Korea, can we say that it meets the bottom line Marxist formula definition of what socialism is -- the means of production are not controlled by a capitalist class and the law of value does not appear to be in command in north Korea. That said, people can point to obvious "idiosyncracies" of north Korean society that they find disagreeable or even revisionist. They can then think that that is not anything they recognize as a socialism that they would fight for. But isn't it then a country with socialist production relations with some ther features that are disagreeable or even possibly revisionist?

That may get us into the questions Christopher raises about popular agency as something to try to measure socialism by beyond just relations of production. (as well as other issues that have been raised about north Korea such as leadership succession, militarization of society, etc)

But in a 'bottom-line' analytical Marxist sense is it not a socialist country if capitalist production relations and a capitalist class don't exist? In Red Papers #7, didn't the RU / RCP go into great detail to try to establish precisely that capitalist production relations had been established and that the law of value was in command in the USSR? Those do seem like essential questions that must be analyzed in deciding if a country is socialist or capitalist.

And can modes of production change without a revolution? In other words, as Christopher asks in an earlier post, was north Korea socialist at some point and if so when did that change and how did that come about?

I'll try to respond to burningman's comments later; I already had mostly written this before I saw burningman's most recent comment.

G. Frohman

I think it would be a mistake to take the CPP statement too much at face value. It's easy for those in a left that's nearly irrelevant, such as here in the US, to assess everything purely on the level of ideology. But when you're in a situation like that of the CPP where seizing power in the foreseeable future is actually on the table, messy factors like geopolitics and ensuring the basic survival of the revolution must inevitably creep in to an extent. You have to think about questions like, "What country are we going to buy our armaments from once we seize power? What regional powers will we need to ally ourselves with, at least to an extent, to defend ourselves against (principally US) imperialism?" It's not pretty, but anyone who thinks we can win while maintaining absolute purity is in the wrong business.

If strategy is the "flexible application of principles according to circumstances," any real-world revolution is going to have to find the correct particular balance between flexibility and principle. There are errors of one-sidedness that can be made in either direction. So let's not judge the CPP too harshly when we don't face the same difficult choices here. (I think we'll also be seeing the Nepalese facing similar messy choices as time goes on.)

On the question of the character of the DPRK itself, I'm no expert either, but based on everything I've heard, I'm pretty skeptical that it's on the road to a classless society. Keeping in mind the limitations of anecdotes, let me note one that I think is particularly telling. Somewhere around a decade ago, the DPRK released a statement proclaiming some milestone or other having to do with Kim Jong-Il. (I wish I had filed the article so I could quote it verbatim.) The statement noted as a portent of the momentousness of the occasion that a Korean fisherman in the Sea of Japan had caught a rare albino sea slug in his net. The article showed how much value they place on a scientific outlook: they'll unhesitatingly rely on crass appeals to superstition among the masses to win and maintain their allegiance.

On the broader question of the CPP's relationships with "anti-revisionist" vs. revisionist and mixed forces around the world, it seems to me that in the minds of at least some critics out there, it boils down to, "Why doesn't the CPP join the RIM?" It could be partly due to the fact that many of the groups in the RIM are not exactly major forces--leaving aside the Nepalese, of course. (I'm not even going to go into questions of ideological deviations within RIM member groups.)

I certainly can't speak for the CPP, but I think they have the attitude that it's premature to be immediately laying the foundation for a new international. As I think at least some of the folks participating on this blog see it, there's a lot of new thinking that has been developing and will continue to develop within and around the M-L scene. And unfortunately, some of the forces out there that most strongly identify as "anti-revisionist" are pretty badly stuck in the past. I think that whatever nucleus develops into a real, meaningful proto-International will of necessity cross heretofore existing lines of categorization to an extent. It could be that the CPP sees something similar.

I have to actually do some work, so I'm going to skip my thoughts on some of the most recent comments.

friend of a friend

Leftspot says: "the means of production are not controlled by a capitalist class and the law of value does not appear to be in command in north Korea."

Is a capitalist class only one constituted as such?

What was the class that governed 1972 Russia? Rockefellers? Or what?

The debate between Raymond Lotta and Symanski (sp?) in the early 80s largely hinged on exactly this question.

the burningman

What G. Frohman is saying is exactly what I was attempting to pull out of the magic hat that is the internet.

Let us follow that logic some more:

What is important is not "truth," but expediency.

What gives political parties ideological weight is not line, but mass (in the physical sense).

What we are to say is whatever is necessary. So Korea is socialist and Marxist Leninist, Kim Jong Il is a beloved and wise leader -- and hey, that's just realpolitik, right?

Teng Xioping is a great leader.

Breznev, wise and beloved.


Forget about the people. That's the kind of shit irrelevent, marginal parties talk about. Let's get real-real!


Anti-revisionsists are stuck in the past and Kim Jong Il is the "lodestar of the 21st Century."

Get with it!

the burngman

On a side note: I'm interested in your notes on relevency:

Is the Workers Party of Belgium relevent except as a center of Revisionist regroupment?

What about the South African Communist Party?

What about the National Bolshevik forces in eastern Europe?


In terms of marginality, I think quite a few parties associated with the Philippino party are totally irrelevent grouplets that know how to keep quiet on basic issues of truth and falsehood.

Whatever the timeframe of a new international -- you better hope, pray and work to strengthen those sections of the ICM fighting for a NEW synthesis based on revolutionary communism and not a repeat of the disasters of the past.

To put it in a name: Breznev has no place at the table.

Christopher Day

What are socialist relations of production? I can give a straightforward description of what I think COMMUNIST relations of production might be. But the the transitional character of socialism and the variety of conditions under which different national societies attempt that transition makes it difficult to tidily generalize. Socialist relations of production will look different in a country with no mechanized industry to speak of than in a country like Germany, and they will look different over the course of the transition.

Similarly, what precisely is meant by the presence or absence of "the law of value" demands clarification. Does the law of value simply refer to the general exchange of commodities an the basis of the average socially neccesary labor time for heir production? Does it describe commodity exchange in pre-capitalist societies or just under capitalism? Is it abolished immediately under socialism or is it a process of its progressive restriction with its abolition marking tha transition to communism? Is its restriction or abolition consistent with other (presumably non-capitalist) forms of class society or is it inherently socialist?

A useful, if predictably eclectic, starting point for this discussion is (of course) Wikipedia:

Among the interesting notes here is an indication that Stalin saw the law of value as continuing to function under socialism, which arguably complicates the insistence that it was only restored after his death.

G. Frohman

Burningman, you're describing one of the errors I identified, or at least attempted to. Maybe I did a poor job.

When expediency rules over line overall, that is indeed the error of pragmatism, opportunism, etc. But when purity of line is pursued to the detriment of all real-world contradictions that come into play, that's the opposite error of dogmatism.

I never argued that "what gives political parties ideological weight is not line, but mass." Neither do I believe it. But if you think mass doesn't come into the equation at all, you're mistaken. "Practice is the sole criterion of truth."

One point I was implying with my previous post but maybe should have spelled out more is this: International statements such as the one referenced are a poor source to use for attempting to understand the ideological line of a party. They are heavy with diplomacy and exhibit in a concentrated way the impact of the real-world contradictions I was referring to. I don't think they mean much in terms of most of the actual work the party carries out. It just happens to be particularly convenient for folks like us here on the other side of the world to spend a lot of energy parsing out such statements. If you want to understand the line of the CPP more accurately, you should read the ideological documents put out by the party and its leaders, and also more deeply investigate their day-to-day social practice on the ground. Those are the places you'll find the "truth."

Nelson H.

I want to thank you for this post, a very well balanced in mostly logical criticism that needs to be made, heard and taken up for the revolutionary socialist left. However, in your original post you make a quick comment that, "For those who think Avakian's culture of appreciation is the same thing as a real, live cult of personality -- well, jeez. Just click the link." The lazy slip into editorializing concerning the on-going thread you link to (with a debate concerning whether the RCP does (or for the sake of argument, does not) engage in leader-worship) was pretty disappointing

I understand it's your blog and all, so you can say what you want to. But it is a logical fallacy to suggest that *if* the RCP lacks the resources or will to produce scary-ass movies with children singing about happy flowers *then* the CULTure of appreciation or the organization's internal culture generally is either an OK representation of internal democracy and lively "party" functioning, or is at least should exempt from the type (not degree mind you) of criticism we ought to make of the DPRK.

Concerning such functioning within the RCP, very good arguments to the contrary were made in the earlier post on "chairman" Bob's recent statement, are being made by other committed US revolutionaries in other forums, and have been made by many for decades. One comment made in the previous post, by tn_red I believe, really stuck out to me: folks new to struggle are completely weirded-out by the RCP, especially when it comes to the hero worship of a self-exiled, old white dude. This was certainly my lived-experience as I became involved with progressive and later revolutionary socialist politics.

If pushing papers under a red flag and plastering Avakian posters to our walls is what being involved with the revolutionary left is to be about, let's hope - for his own sake - that "Uncle" Bob doesn't make more timeline predictions about the approaching arm struggle any time in the next half century.

Christopher Day

Can we please not make THIS thread about the "culture of appreciation" around Bob Avakian?

Pretty please?

a comment

chris wrote: "Similarly, what precisely is meant by the presence or absence of 'the law of value' demands clarification. Does the law of value simply refer to the general exchange of commodities an the basis of the average socially neccesary labor time for heir production? Does it describe commodity exchange in pre-capitalist societies or just under capitalism? Is it abolished immediately under socialism or is it a process of its progressive restriction with its abolition marking tha transition to communism? Is its restriction or abolition consistent with other (presumably non-capitalist) forms of class society or is it inherently socialist? Stalin saw the law of value as continuing to function under socialism, which arguably complicates the insistence that it was only restored after his death."

There is a confusion that has slipped into this conversation.

What defines capitalism is not the OPERATION of the law of value (i.e. the exchange of commodities) but the DOMINANCE of the law of value (and in particular the commodification of human laborpower, and the allocation of accumulated capital).

Not just stalin, but Mao (and the Four in the "Shanghai Political Economy Textbook") hold that under socialism the law of value operates objectively. Its operation is "restricted" -- but for a long transitional period can only be restricted for objective reasons.

But the key leap to socialism is that labor power is, in fundamental ways, no longer a commodity, and so the operation of the law of value no longer governs the economy. I.e. there is socialist planning, which must take the law of value into account, but restricts and overrules it based on the historic interests of the transitional period.

This is rather basic to the MLM theory of capitalist restoration -- and for a deeper explanation I suggest looking at the Shanghai PE Textbook, and also Ray Lotta's speech at the 1983 SU conference (repringed in the book SU: Socialist or Social Imperialist.)

The question of North Korea is more complicated because of two things: first, very little reliable data exists about how the society actually operates. Second, a heavily militarized capitalist economy has a major element of political-strategic domination over the simple operation of "market forces."

As several people have pointed out North Korea is nothing, if not a military economy.

However methodologically there are ways to approach this:

First, while the restriction of the law of value to the extent possible defines socialist relations of production and socialist planning as such, it is also true that there are conditions which Maoists hold to be necessary. The socialist economy requires a complex interaction betweeen base and superstructure to remain socialist, and if the superstructure (the state, the party, the dominant ideology) is clearly reactionary, then the base cannot be socialist (and we can reach that verdict even if for specific reasons we are unable to accumulate a lot of empirical data on how that base operates.)

Someone in this thread said North Korea upholds ML, anti-revisionism, dictatorship of the proletariat etc. -- this is mistaken on several levels, including most crudely that the ruling clique there explicitly says that their ideology (which is "Juche") is fundamentally different from Marxism. And they describe profound idealist/religious differences with materialism, and differences with the historical materialist approach so society in their religious approach to their kings, and a profoundly nationalist/chauvinist approach to their whole project. In other words, not only OBJECTIVELY is their society revisionist (not anti-revisionist), and a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (not of the proletariat), and anti-Marxist (not Marxist Leninist), but in many ways this is argued openly in their self-descriptions, especially when they explain their messianic monarcho-nationalist credo called Juche.

Second, the fundamental contradiction of capitalism operates in two forms of motion (i.e. there is the anarchy of capital, and there is the contradiction between proletariat and bourgeois.) We may not be able to delineate and document how precisely the anarchy of capital in North Korea operates (are ministries operating as essentially corporations? do they distribute capital based on rate of profit? do they have defacto competition under the aegis of nominal "state ownership"?).

But even if we can't document that form of motion of the contradiction, we can document the other form of motion -- i.e. the degree to which the masses of people are oppressed and downpressed, the degree to which political life is completely fascist, etc.

The idea that insurgent movements have nowhere else to seek international support (other than Cuba and N. Korea) and therefore they have reasons of expediency for declaring these countries "socialist" -- well, that is the kind of "political truth" and instrumentalism discussed in other threads.

In otherwords, we don't know a lot about the internal mechanisms of North Korean society, how its factories run, how its commodities circulate, how its planning is really done, etc. But we do know enough to know that this is not socialism. (and if someone thinks THAT is socialism, then we are not just in different and opposed movements, buit on different planets.)


deep issues.

obviously there is a tragi-comic element to that video.

But look at it ideologically -- and epistemologically.

Look at how profoundly religious this is. Some people have loosely and falsely talked about "worshiping leaders" -- but here is a moment where it is actually going on. Actual worship, complete with mythology of "descent from heaven."

And there is a long long history of that in the DPRK, not just recently.

And this is IN CONTRAST (as burningman seems to be saying) with a materialist discussion of leadership and its value. On one hand you have a method that aspires to "not a hint of slavishness" -- and a fundamentally opposed method that is characterized by slavishness of the most crude and even embarassing excess.

Here in NYC i run into WWP folks. And it is very very hard to draw them out politically and ideologically, as i'm sure you've experienced. On one hand, they have this utterly compartmentalized identity politics, where you don't have anything to say about things unless you are directly and personally involved. And, on the other hand, they have a stultifying and mind-numbing view of "what socialism is" -- so that even North Korea gets a pass, or more gets a high-5!

I's mot sure how they "hold it all together" -- because the internal contradictions of that are intense, cuz if you think of it for a New York minute, you realize that North Korea isnot exactly the embodiment of identity politics. But you can train yourself in denial, if you apply that identity politics to a distant nation -- i.e. that they alone have a right to discuss or think critically about their country.

It is a whole machinery for shutting down scientific, critical and penetrating analysis. Which is why i imagine it is hard to draw them out. And why they even have a major split and can't even tell you one idea it was over!

Not to deflect this thread into a discusion of Workers World Party -- but I am trying to point out the kind of mechanisms of mental self-censorship and denial, and the kinds of lowered sights, you need to accept this North Korea society as "socialism."

Imagine being anyone in the Philippines, and being told that this communist party considers North Korea to be socialism -- to be an example of the kind of society that THEY AS A PARTY are aspiring to set up.

Gee, can you imagine supporting them in a struggle for power?

the real john

a side note to the person who just posted about WWP: Uh, dude, get your own nick. I've been posting here as "john" for a while. So plz dn't confuse everyone by using my handle. thanks.

A note to burningman: I would really like to talk about "political agency." I have been thinking and studying on this, especially the K. Venu piece, and the chair's piece on 3 alternative views of socialism.

Now i don't want to muck everything up by just posting some key quotes and thoughts here, on this thread, in answer to Chris's remarks on "agency." So here is the question: how should we do this?

Chris wanted a thread where we could dig into this, and I second the motion.

A suggestion: why don't you take two things and post them to start a thread:

The discussion in K. Venu on "political will."

And the "third choice" in the three alternatives piece (which gives the R.C. view on how the masses engage and exercise power, and with a implicit sense of how that is different from the theory of "agency." Then we can "take it from there."

the real john

several times people have posted here the saying "practice is the sole criterion of truth."

This should be allowed to slide so easily.

First of all, what they often mean by that (and by the discusion that "numbers matter") is that they have reduced this notion of practice to the all-American notion "If you are so smart, how come you aren't rich."

It came up with the coup in china where this same phrase about practice was used to argue that winners must be right, and losers must be, well, losers. Again a very pragmatic and American notion of "truth" and its criterion.

Second point: this saying lends itself to some misunderstanding. So lets be clear:

Ideas are true if they correspond with reality. (This is very different from the pragmatic notion that ideas are true if they prove useful in achieving desired results in practice.)

Now how do you know if ideas correspond with reality? You can only tell that through practice -- through scientific experiment, class struggle or the struggle for production.

This is a very very different approach from the essentially opportunist argument that "if their party is big, they must have done something right." No, that is a corruption of the notion of practice as a criteron of truth. It turns a largely correct saying into a thinly veiled version of crude American mainstream thinking about winners and losers.


I don't know a lot about the Korean economy, but I would be really surprised if the law of value wasn't the dominant factor at least in the 'special economic zones' that have been set up along the Chinese border (of course, there are those who rationalize China's own 'special economic zones' as socialist somehow, so I guess this won't be a very great argument for those folks).

I want to second the call for people to study the 2 volume RCP series on the nature of the Soviet Union (which contains articulate opposing arguments) in order to grapple with this problem of the law of value and capitalist restoration. I don't think there are any other comparable works. (And, this combined with Mao's Critique of Soviet Economics (where Mao himself is still grappling with this problem and by no means certain about many important aspects of this question) and the more consolidated understanding in the Shanghai Textbook, would really be good for people who haven't grappled with this before).

Anyways, it is really hard to imagine that everything we are seeing about North Korea could be going on and the law of value not be somehow in command. But, even if the law of value is not in command in North Korea, I would say we would still have to say it is not socialist (there I go with apriori idealism again). There simply have to be some things that 'disqualify' you as socialist even if the law of value is not ruling the economy (although, of course, the law of value might not be dominant and maybe we could just call it a feudal or slave society instead of socialist).

As far as the CPP goes, maybe this is pragmatic alliance building (and, indeed, there is nothing wrong with some sort of pragmatic alliance with North Korea or Cuba or whoever, but they shouldn't be calling these places socialist). But it also probably has something to do with the confusion (or struggle) in the CPP about when capitalism was restored in the USSR and what constitutes capitalist restoration. The CPP has gone back and forth on whether capitalism was restored in the USSR in 1956 or 1991, and this right here looks like the revisionist understanding of this question is winning out for the time being.

But the sorts of alliances the CPP makes does have bad effects internationally. Look at how they pushed to make PSL the main US force involved in the ILPS. That certainly does not further the interests of revolution in the US.


Lurigancho, don't treat revisionism like it has implications. That's "dogmatic."

"Expediency" has its own logic.


on juche is not marxist

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