100 Years – Petrograd Soviet To Xi Jinping Thought: But, Then, What Is Socialism?

There were undeniably several confusions that the workers in general faced during the first fifty years of forward march of international communist movement since the Petrograd Soviet days. What exactly Rosa meant in her criticism towards Russian socialists? How Trotsky differed from CPSU headed by Stalin? Then what happened to all the members of the Central Committee that led the 1917 revolution (except Stalin)? What should be the ‘line’ regarding United Front against Fascists? And the CPC versus CPSU debate and the confusions came later, which, at the beginning of second 50 years after 1917, went from ‘weapons of criticism’ almost to ‘criticism by weapons’ (at Zenbao).

And thus the next half of a century started presenting confusions that were no less serious. Those were more prominent sixty years after 1917. Previously there were fights among warring theories all claiming to be true believers of socialism or Marxism Leninism, but war between ‘socialist countries’ was never dreamt. And the war of Vietnam versus Kampuchea showed that it was also possible. An easy way to avoid the confusion was to brand one country as socialist and the other as anti-socialist. But had we not thought that all ‘revolutions’ against imperialism would naturally veer towards socialism? Then, what happened in case of Iran?

Seventy to seventy-five years passed after Petrograd soviet and history showed more gigantic problems inside ‘socialism’. What happed in East European countries? How a socialist country can fire on students however right-wing they purportedly were? And the Big-bang of the USSR, how is that to be explained?

The last twenty years gave international socialists some comfort, one may say, from Latin America. In spite of Lula’s turns, there were Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, where socialism is said to be arriving though with some difficulties and deformities, but without any violent revolutionary war.

Fifty years after 1917 the expression ‘Mao Tse Tung thought’ attracted much attention in countries where anti imperialist and revolutionary movements were going on. And at the centenary of Russia revolution, China gave the world Xi Jinping Thought.

Nevertheless, one point was to a great extent silently passed over. That is: what indeed is socialism.

Theorising Socialism

Stalin tried to answer it in 1951 in his pamphlet: Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR[1]. Among points he clinched some are:

  1. Contrary to Engels (as he explained in Anti Dühring, Part III, Socialism, Chapter 2) Commodity production is not unthinkable in Socialist USSR which different from “capitalism and the concentration of production have advanced far enough both in industry and in agriculture to permit the expropriation of all the means of production in the country and their conversion into public property”[2].
  2. Contrary to Engels (as he explained in Anti Dühring, Part III, Socialism,) Law of Value thus operates in a ‘socialist country’[3].
  3. Contrary to Engels (as he explained in Anti Dühring, Part III, Socialism, in Anti Dühring) “Abolition of the Antithesis Between Town and Country, and Between Mental and Physical Labour, and Elimination of Distinctions Between Them” should not be expected from a socialist country like the USSR[4] and under socialism ‘socialist towns and cities’ will come up and thrive.

Whatever differences different shades of communists had – they all perhaps thought the same regarding ‘socialism’. Interestingly, Stalin did not or could not quote Lenin or Marx in his support. The story so far indicates that therefore the idea about ‘socialism’ as expressed by Engels (and indirectly also of Marx and Lenin) is not ‘practical’ or ‘practicable’. This position pushes one to conclude – if there were a communist party (declared as communist or socialist) that wields power and control the government in a country then that country should be called a socialist one, even if one has reservation about this point or that.

Mao made significant changes in this regard. To him ‘socialism’ Is not the arrival of classless society achieved after prolonged transition period of ‘dictatorship of proletariat’ as perceived by Engels or Lenin, but socialism is the dictatorship of proletariat; where there are classes and of course class struggle. He did not take commodity production, exchange, money, eight-grade wage system, antithesis between town and country and antithesis mental and manual labour and etcetera. He warned that if incorrectly handled that system may revert to capitalism again. What distinguished socialism from capitalism was, to him, property relation: in socialism only social and collective ownership of means of production can be there. Let us see a long passage from a Peking Review article:

“Chairman Mao has pointed out: “Lenin said, ‘Small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale.’ This also occurs among a section of the workers and a section of the Party members. Both within the ranks of the proletariat and among the personnel of state organs, there are people who follow the bourgeois style of life.” …

“The existence of bourgeois influence and the existence of the influence of international imperialism and revisionism are the political and ideological source of new bourgeois elements, while the existence of bourgeois right provides the vital economic basis for their emergence.

“Lenin pointed out: “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 labour 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 labour,’ 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 (really unequal) amounts of labour, equal amounts of products.”

“Chairman Mao has pointed out: “China is a socialist country. Before liberation, she was more or less like capitalism. Even now she practises an eight-grade wage system, distribution to each according to his work and exchange by means of money, which are scarcely different from these in the old society. What is different is that the system of ownership has changed.” “Our country at present practises a commodity system, and the wage system is unequal too, there being the eight-grade wage system, etc. These can only be restricted under the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

“In socialist, society, there still exist two kinds of socialist ownership, namely, ownership by the whole social people and collective ownership. This determines that China at present practises a commodity system. The analyses made by Lenin and Chairman Mao tell us that bourgeois right which inevitably exists as regards distribution and exchange under the socialist system should be restricted under the dictatorship of the proletariat, so that in the long course of the socialist revolution the three major differences between workers and peasants, between town and country and between manual and mental labour will gradually be narrowed and the discrepancies between the various grades will be reduced and the material and ideological conditions for closing such gaps will gradually be created. If we do not follow this course, but call instead for the consolidation, extension and strengthening of bourgeois right and that part of inequality it entails, the inevitable result will be polarization, i.e., a small number of people will in the course of distribution acquire increasing amounts of commodities and money through certain legal channels and numerous illegal ones; capitalist ideas of amassing fortunes and craving for personal fame and gain, stimulated by such ”material incentives,” will spread unchecked; such phenomena as turning public property into private property, speculation, graft and corruption, theft and bribery will rise; the capitalist principle of the exchange of commodities will make its way into political life send even into Party life, undermine the socialist planned economy and give rise to such acts of capitalist exploitation as the conversion of commodities and money into capital and labour power into a commodity; and there will be a change in the nature of the system of ownership in certain departments and units which follow the revisionist line; and instances of oppression and exploitation of the labouring people will once again occur. As a result, a small number of new bourgeois elements and upstarts who have totally betrayed the proletariat and the labouring people will emerge from among Party members, workers, well-to-do peasants and personnel in state organs. Our worker-comrades have put it well: “If bourgeois right is not restricted, it will check the development of socialism and aid the growth of capitalism.””[5].

Reversal: 1977-2017 — Teng Hsiao Ping to Jinping Thought

However, Moa thought in practice was short lived, hardly two decades. After Teng Hsiao Ping or Deng was reinstated in in the Party CC and Military Commission in 1977, these type of discussions gave place to talks on reforms, growth, modernisation etc. There were de-collectivisation and privatisation of agricultural land under ‘communes’, private business was allowed and state owned industries could be managed by individuals under contract.  And Xi’s predecessor Jiang Zemin can be attributed with the ‘new’ addition, that of allowing private businessmen get communist party membership, which was announced on the 80th anniversary of the party on July 1, 2001. Socialism at twenty first century became indeed different.

Xi Jinping was lauded as a great leader in the party congress held in October 2017, under who China thrived a lot and became a greater socialist great power. Engels said – if there are commodities and money (that which NON OLET[6] doesn’t smell, doesn’t show where from it came, as Engels mentioned and explained) – it is enough to engender classes and push society back to capitalism. But who is afraid of classes and commodities and money and etc categories and even capitalism when one lives in a socialist country!

So a China with ‘feet set on socialist foundation’ can shrug off a ‘little’ pollution and some ‘inequality’ perhaps putting faith on Kuznets that everything will be all right after some more growth. As The Economist showed us a pollution picture where it is clearly shown that since mid-2015 industrial production of some major items are increasing again and consequently pollution is also in the increase (see endnote [7]  if images copyrighted by others cannot be put here for display) …and movement of the Inequality Index figure, Gini Index, looks like as if climbing upward again after a little fall from 0.491 to almost 0.461: (see endnote [8] for address of the image)

Nevertheless, Xi Jinping and his comrades may show that these ills in Nature and Society will diminish in near future, or in another 20-30 years. They have their own experts to forecast. Jin Han, Qingxia Zhao and Mengnan Zhang in their article “China’s income inequality in the global context” in Perspectives in Science (March 2016) while comparing Chinese inequality with inequality in EU countries, concluded: “From the perspective of China’s socialist nature, we should set the EU average as a reference warning line for China, around 0.3. To pursue a goal of inequality reduction currently in China, we have three steps to go: (1) to surpass US; (2) to chase UK; (3) to pursue Germany” and then formulated some policies for achieving that. And one of the diagrams they presented is as follows[9]:

Inequality in countries by Jin Han et al

Figure 1 Inequality in countries, image courtesy Jin Han et al)

But you can expect that surely some great achievements have been noted, otherwise why a new addition is there after Marxism, Leninism, Mao Tse Tung thought in the name of Xi Jinping Thought? Xi Jinping is one in all now: General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People’s Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. For the last five years he is the topmost leader in China. What new things we got in these five years?

Chinese observers can enlighten us explaining “Important Remarks” (or the Essence of Gen Sec Xi Jinping’s series of Important Remarks) and “Four Greats”. As far as this author’s scrappy knowledge goes, there is a good amount of Great Dreams in both, great nationalistic dreams. And its reflection is there also in the much touted “One Belt and One Road Initiative” (OBOR). Cynical persons may say – in the guise of reviving historical trade routes, reviving ties of civilisations and cultures, it is nothing but an expansionist plan with the aim of boosting ‘growth rate’ by ‘infrastructure investment’ in short and medium term.

An image of the OBOR with links inside West Asia, South Asia and South East Asia can be better seen in this following map[10] (though the path within Pakistan is shown in a simplified way, obviously that route will not touch Indian soil):


OBOR by Boh Ze Kai

Figure 2 OBOR, Map made by Boh Ze Kai of MANTRAYA

So, from Rotterdam to Kolkata and from Mombasa to Moscow, through the great OBOR, we will have ‘socialist’ touch. While ushering in ‘socialist growth’ in China it will also contribute to growth of world economy too. Just stop calling this growth and economy ‘capitalist’. There are no contradictions – in Socialism there might be commodities, money, capital, classes, extreme inequality, extreme pollution and so many things; we need not worry, it is still socialism, because a ‘communist party’ is at the helm.

100 years passed and we get new theory and practice of ‘socialism’ with capitalist characteristics as could never be dreamt of according to the century old book: State and Revolution.

Sandeep Banerjee

The author is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly from Kolkata.

He lives in West Bengal, India.  For a living now he works in research works/projects/publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]

[1] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1951/economic-problems/index.htm

[2] Ibid chapter 2, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1951/economic-problems/ch03.htm

[3] Ibid chapter 3, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1951/economic-problems/ch04.htm

[4] Ibid chapter 4, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1951/economic-problems/ch05.htm

[5] Peking Review, #10, March 7, 1975, pp. 5-10, [made available by http://massline.org/ via www.marxists.org] at https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1975/PR1975-10a.htm

[6] Anti Dühring Part III, Socialism, Chapter 4, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch26.htm

[7] http://www.economist.com/node/21011894/2017/01/daily-chart-1.htm

[8] Inequality gap closing in China as rural income rises Image copyright CGTN, available at https://news.cgtn.com/news/32597a4e7a597a6333566d54/share_p.html

[9] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pisc.2015.11.006

[10] Image prepared by Boh Ze Kai of MANTRAYA is available at http://www.eurasiareview.com/13042016-one-belt-one-road-one-singapore-analysis/


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