I think everyone who reads this blog has seen this video before, but I gotta post it anyway just because the Communist Manifesto is just so much cuter and more fun to get into when it’s being illustrated with old cartoons.
What follows is an expansion upon one of the points I made in my previous entry concerning the interests of farmers. Since some of my current and former comrades might contend that the interests of peasants can fundamentally change with an alteration of their relationship to the production and distribution process (and thus their allegiance to proletarian reorganization is sustainable regardless of how deep it goes), let me use an historical example they might relate to to make my point clearer: 20th century China.
By the 1930s, two different systems were starting to emerge in China: under Chiang Kai-shek’s so-called National Socialist Party (a party that espoused democratic socialism, yet which brought neither democracy nor socialism to the populations under their authority), capitalism was being brought to the few major metropolitan areas that China had back then, while the Nationalist’s government forged alliances with strategic warlords to maximize their control of the vast countryside where more than 80% of the population lived. Under this regime, hence, capitalism thrived in the cities while feudalism was left intact in the rural areas. The Communists organized amongst the peasants, accordingly, for the overthrow of their landlords and an equal redistribution of the land. Having won legitimacy with the peasantry through their generally successful resistance to Japan during World War 2, the Communist’s increasingly unified People’s Liberation Army was able to subsequently encircle the cities and overrun the country. The two people’s wars that the Communists fought (the people’s war of resistance and the people’s war of liberation) were then in essence well-organized peasant revolts, and the new government accordingly tended to mainly follow the interests of the peasantry: it brought modern social relations to the countryside while redistributing the land equitably. It was manifestly obvious that these measures were popular with the peasants (and thus with the nation’s immense majority), as was the 1953-55 reorganization of the countryside into peasant cooperatives (a market socialist reorganization), as the latter increased the output capacity of farming communities. However, that was the end of the peasants’ general support for economic reorganization; that was as far as it ever stretched. When Mao ascended to the proverbial throne in a big way again from 1955-60, he moved immediately to complete the country’s reorganization along socialist lines applying methodology similar to that of the Soviet Union at first. Within this, peasant communities were reorganized into what were called collectives. This was the first reorganization of the countryside into non-profit units of work, and it wasn’t as successful. While this reorganization was supported by the poorest peasants (especially the landless ones), the majority obviously didn’t like it, as indicated by a subsequent drop-off in agricultural output. There was widespread grumbling amongst the peasants concerning their inability to market their surplus product, for the state, in its desire to ensure the affordability of food, offered low prices, and the state had now become the sole legal buyer. This, the absence of profit, seemed to unmotivate the peasants to at least some degree. Now the contention of Maoists has been that the non-profit reorganization of the countryside fundamentally changed the interests of the peasantry by transforming them from being essentially business owners to being essentially community workers, thus giving them the same interests as the working class people in the cities: a general interest in socialism. Their dissatisfaction with this reorganization, however, seems to suggest otherwise; that their interests as a group had not fundamentally changed. It makes sense, as they remained directly dependent on the sale of their product. Mao himself recognized the unpopularity of this reorganization, which is precisely why he launched the famous Hundred Flowers campaign the following year. The Hundred Flowers program sought to get ideas from the intellectuals for how to resolve this dilemma and satisfy the population with full-fledged socialism. The intellectuals, however, seized upon the opportunity to complain of unfulfilled promises of democratic political reorganization (said promise having always been their motivation for supporting the Communists), to which Mao responded by punishing them via the subsequent so-called Anti-Rightist Movement. Concerned though, Mao did chart a new, original course forward thereafter, announcing that China would make a “great leap forward” in both production and socialist reorganization simultaneously in 1958.
The Great Leap Forward was characterized mainly by the consolidation of agricultural collectives into giant communes, which were basically multi-community collectives. Some of these new communes encompassed whole regions of the country. A qualitative increase in the scale of collective organization, Mao reasoned, would naturally increase productive capacity. Therefore the state dramatically increased its production quotas. There was initially a subsequent increase in agricultural production, but it was easily overwhelmed by the astronomical quotas that were set by the state: the government took nearly the entire product of whole communities and regions, leaving them in more extreme poverty and artificially causing widespread starvation. While Mao soon realized that production quotas were too high, by the time they were lowered even just a little the basic corruption of the social structure in place had taken over: community leaders knew they would be punished if they didn’t report significant increases in production levels, so they routinely exaggerated the output levels in their reports to the central government, causing the government to raise their quotas systematically, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of growing poverty, hunger, and starvation. As for the peasants themselves, they now found themselves with minimal incentive to work because, as the rule, the larger their output, the more of it they lost. Plus they were now being made to do most of their work for free as compulsory “volunteers”. The intellectuals who had been alienated by the Anti-Rightist Movement though were nominally appeased by the introduction of an essentially meaningless dose of local-level democracy in the form of non-political contested elections in which people ran on their ability to be efficient enforcers of the law rather than on what changes in the law they would bring. Eventually the failure of the Great Leap Forward resulted in Mao’s quiet removal from power and subsequently to the devolution of power within the communes to the local level. This structural reorganization, together with a major lowering of production quotas, worked, and output levels quickly returned to normal between 1962 and ’65. Mass starvation ended.
(The contention of the average Maoist that record flooding was the main reason why there was so much starvation in China during the Leap years is discredited by the fact that the same type of program, known officially as the Super Great Leap Forward, was attempted in Kampuchea (a.k.a. Cambodia) from late 1976 until early 1979 under the Khmer Rouge (the only other explicit Maoists to ever acquire control of a nation) with highly comparable results. Had the essential problem in the case of China’s Leap program been flooding, comparable mass starvation would not have resulted from what was basically a repetition of the same program under different circumstances. Clearly the main problems of that period were with the Leap program itself.)
The advent of the Vietnam War enabled Mao to ascend politically once more (because Mao was always popular as a military strategist and especially so with the army), although this time he had to rely on force as much as persuasion. He had spent the intervening years building up support amongst the youth (through the socialist education movement) and within the army through the promotion of his trusted ideological ally Lin Biao to the status of top commander. (As with farmers pretty well everywhere, the Chinese agrarians too were of an assertive, militaristic character when it came to matters of foreign policy, as was Mao. That was one thing they were able to share in common with him. Mao’s economic policies were what they disliked about him.) Through these two groups — the youth (mainly the urban youth) and more importantly the army — Mao was, amidst the stage of a popular proxy war with the United States, able to simply muscle his way back into power by way of what was officially called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which officially ran from 1965 to 1969 (although the muscle-flexing part didn’t begin in earnest until the latter part of ’66). It may be of interest to the reader to note that the strategic alliance Mao relied upon to accomplish this (again, the youth and the army) was the same as that which had backed the arch-radical Trotsky over Stalin in the Soviet Union back in the ’20s. Anyway, one can essentially divide the Cultural Revolution into two periods: the youth-led period (1966-67) and the army-led period (1968-69). The first of these periods is the more famous one wherein the youth were organized into Red Guard units and unleashed to ‘peacefully’ conquer the nation for Mao; to attack their parents, their teachers, and authority figures generally for any disloyalty to Mao they might have displayed. Naturally the youth loved this new-found freedom and ate it up, going distinctly further than Mao actually wanted: tearing down religious establishments and burning their symbols and so forth. But this was all overwhelmingly centered in the nation’s cities, whereas 80% of China’s population still lived in rural areas. The upheaval in the cities served as a distraction from what was going on in the countryside, enabling the peasants to simply ignore state policies and do more or less as they pleased. The effect? The percentage of rural part of the economy that was privately owned rapidly multiplied from 3% to 15%. This spontaneous development is another excellent indicator of what the natural interests of farmers are. Clearly they correspond to a market-oriented set-up. Anyway, the increasing re-privatization of the countryside caught Mao’s attention, as did the gigantic worker strikes in protest of the Red Guards in the cities. That’s right: the urban wage-workers who were considered to be the main embodiment and representative force of communist ideology were opposed to the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or at least to this first period of it, because workers have a tendency to favor security and tranquility. The chaos the Red Guards unleashed brought their work near to a standstill and thereby pushed the economy into another recession. (Let there be no mistake about it though: essentially all workers in China during this era qualified as working class people, as there were no propertied (i.e. middle class) workers to speak of, and working class people DO have an interest in socialism. In fact, the workers were the ones who effectively launched China’s original socialist reorganization in the mid-1950s by starting to spontaneously seize workplaces. The political representatives of working class communities pretty much invariably favored socialism modeled on the Soviet example. These elements were the main and most consistent social base for socialist organization, in fact.) But for Mao the final blow against the Red Guards’ leading role in this protracted power seizure came in the summer of 1967 when they began to enter into armed conflict with the regular army: the other crucial force in Mao’s alliance for revolution. Fearing that his crucial alliance would be broken and that the nation might spiral into civil war, Mao now called upon Lin Biao’s army to restore order and finish the Cultural Revolution itself. The army subsequently swept the countryside, restored collectivization, disarmed the Red Guards on Mao’s orders, and emerged from 1968 as the main force running the nation. This ascendancy of the army was formalized in early 1969 at the conference announcing the end of the Cultural Revolution, which designated Lin Biao, the top army commander, as Mao’s official successor. Meanwhile, Mao sought to appease the peasantry, who naturally had rather disliked having collectivization forcibly re-imposed upon them, by gifting them affordable health care for the first time through the barefoot doctors program and by shipping them former Red Guards (as punishment for their excesses) and other young urban intellectuals to help out in the fields. And yes the effectiveness of the latter policy by the way is indisputable, for the year following its inception marked China’s first without starvation. Sorry, I get tired of hearing from these Western documentaries of how oppressive these comparatively privileged intellectuals found the hard work of farming to be. You’ll notice they never bother interviewing the peasants, for whom the thrill of farm work and hunger was a fact of daily life from which they would never escape, when they discuss the Down to the Countryside policy of the late Mao era!
The Cultural Revolution was clearly brought to a close by the border skirmishes with the Soviet Union that took place in 1969. Mao was alarmed by this development, given that the USSR had just recently invaded and militarily occupied a rogue socialist nation (Czechoslovakia) more than once in order to impose its developmental model. It was reported in the American press that same year that the Soviet Union had now developed more elaborate plans for a nuclear war with China than it had for one with the United States. These developments marked a certain reversal of policy direction for Mao in which he began to quietly pursue a diplomatic rapprochement with the United States as a safeguard against any Soviet invasion plans. The announcement that U.S. President Nixon would visit China was made in the summer of 1971 and it offended many of the more radical elements who had been allied with Mao, including many in the army in particular, because China was still engaged in something of a proxy war with the United States in Vietnam at the time. The diplomatic rapprochement was seen by these forces as selling out the Vietnamese people. Sections of the army rebelled and attempted to assassinate Mao in protest, which forced Mao, ironically, to purge the army of its left flank and replace those elements with rightists even though much of the Cultural Revolution had been spent doing the exact opposite. This purge included what seems to have been the assassination of Lin Biao himself. Though Mao continued to run the country, from 1972 he was very much alone, politically speaking. Between the army purge and the Down to the Countryside Movement, he had alienated the two main elements that had just fought the Cultural Revolution that brought him back to power, and meanwhile had failed to win over the peasantry, who consistently opposed the bulk of his policies. This ideological loneliness was put on full display in 1973 and ’74 when Mao’s wife Jiang Qing attempted to launch a second cultural revolution of sorts (known as the Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius campaign) in order to assail the growing influence of party rightists like Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. The campaign mobilized hardly a fraction as many people as had been mobilized by the first cultural revolution. Perhaps the most profound crystallization of the overwhelming public opposition to Mao’s policies in general was seen in early 1976 at Zhou Enlai’s funeral, which Deng Xiaoping successfully turned into an uprising of sorts against Mao, in response to which Jiang Qing successfully petitioned Mao to suppress the protesters with armed force, as seemed necessary. Deng Xiaoping was stripped of all rank thereafter, but Mao was careful not to actually expel or imprison him as he had during the Cultural Revolution (Deng had been a leading opponent of the Great Leap Forward and replaced Mao as the party leader after 1962), apparently feeling intimidated by the massive scale of the aforementioned protest. When Mao died later that year, his new hand-picked successor, Hua Guofeng, wasted no time in arresting Jiang Qing and her so-called “gang of four” that controlled the media and likewise quickly reinstated Deng’s rank. Don’t let these things fool you though, for Hua was a loyal communist, albeit one who had come to disagree with the Maoist political and developmental model in preference for a return to the pre-Leap-era traditional Soviet style of socialist organization defined by industry-centric planning and rigid Communist Party control of the nation’s politics in place of the revolutionary committees established during the Cultural Revolution. But Hua was easily outmaneuvered by Deng Xiaoping, whose popularity was made manifest at every mass event he attended. When the crowds saw him at sporting events or whatever, gigantic, spontaneous eruptions of cheers and applause would break out. Deng was able to capitalize on this popularity by orchestrating the defeat of Hua’s economic program in December of 1978. Hua and his group was thereafter gradually retired from all major party posts.
The new de facto Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, had been born into a poor peasant family and his worldview was largely shaped by that experience: his views broadly reflected those of the the typical peasant, particularly when it came to the matter of economics. Deng was, in other words, a proponent of capitalist economics. By the time of Deng’s political ascendancy, nearly 30 years had passed since the communist revolution of 1949. The Communists had always promised the peasants an end to hunger and poverty. Some 29 years later, the average Chinese peasant (and agrarians remained the overwhelming majority of the population) lived much longer and was better educated than before, nonetheless still lived in perpetual hunger and poverty. It’s just hard to be satisfied with an empty stomach. In 1979, one farming community spontaneously privatized their farms and, to their own surprise, received Deng’s blessing and endorsement. Thereafter, a five-year program of agricultural de-collectivization was launched, at the end of which the immense majority of peasants now lived and worked on private farms…and were no longer hungry. They were now permitted to market their surplus products once more, which increased food prices, thus dramatically improving the economic plight of the producers of food. There has since been the saying amongst the Chinese peasants that “Mao gave us independence; Deng gave us food.” Continuing his regime of aid to the peasantry, from 1986 Deng allowed the establishment of farming corporations and in 1988 eliminated price controls, the latter of which yielded a rapid, major increase in the cost of living for people in the cities. It was no coincidence that, when the famous Tianenmen Square protests of 1989 broke out, the peasants were its principal opponents. They were much more concerned with their economic plight, which had improved tremendously under the political representation they had in Deng, than they were with the idea of political democracy. The achievement of democracy was a concern for removed intellectuals (college students and their professors) in the cities.
The Tianenmen Square protests were the Chinese expression of a much larger, international democracy movement that was taking place in that same time frame. Contrary to common Western narratives, this wave of democratic protest took place not only in communist countries, but also in many Western-backed military dictatorships like Taiwan, South Korea, and Chile, and were generally successful in terminating autocratic rule. Why didn’t such an international wave for further democratization reach the United States, you ask? Because we had already had our democratization/liberalization — likewise led by relatively affluent college intellectuals — wave two decades previous, in the 1960s and early ’70s. A comparable wave of protest was now sweeping other parts of the world two decades later. It even took many of the very same forms, with the young intellectuals getting into rock music for the first time and such, for example. Why did this wave succeed in establishing political democracy in so many other countries, but not in China, you ask? Because China, unlike these other countries, was still basically an agrarian society. Hence the democratic revolt was on the premature side. A similar wave of democratic rebellion is currently sweeping the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring, some 15 years after these events. Anyway, the Tianenmen Square protesters can be divided into two main demographic groups: the youth and the workers. The former were the leaders of the overall movement and formed its majority. What these two main elements shared in common was the demand for an end to rampant government corruption. Beyond that, the students demanded such things as the establishment of multi-party democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc. Their demands were for more political equality, in other words. The workers, meanwhile, demanded more economic equality. They demanded authorization to form independent unions that would represent their interests and for a general reversal of the new, neoliberal economic policies — policies that had hurt them, unlike other strata. (For example, when the government switched from party management to “expert” management of state-owned enterprises in 1986, a wave of public sector layoffs ensued for the first time since the revolution of 1949. Likewise, the release of price controls in 1988 may benefited the peasants (who, like business people generally, benefit from low wages and high prices) but it greatly increased the workers’ cost of living (since the working class survives not by selling products, but by selling its ability to work; they benefit from high wages and low prices). ) Deng at first tolerated these protests, but was eventually won over to the side of the Maoists, who had long called for the suppression of the protests. The students, who had considered Deng an ally of theirs, felt betrayed. The Maoists contended these events to be proof that Deng’s economically and culturally lax policies were dividing the nation and pushing it into a state of chaos that might result in the Communist Party’s overthrow; an argument that proved persuasive to many Communist partisans at that point. As a result, at the party convention later that year, the Maoists won their first major political battle in more than a decade and ascended to power again, however briefly. They aimed to reverse the Deng-era policies generally, seeking to reintroduce agricultural communes, terminate the new “special economic zones”, return state-owned enterprises to Communist Party management, and crack down on cultural liberalism, among other things. These plans were interrupted, however, by the conclusion of the Cold War with the Soviet Union’s collapse at the end of 1991, which was seen as a world-historic defeat for the kind of hard line communist ideological position that the Maoists represented. Deng and his forces were able to quickly capitalize on the USSR’s collapse to muscle their way back into power in early 1992 with the aid of the army, which now sided with them (in no small part because the United States had imposed an arms trade embargo on China after crack down on the Tianenmen Square protests). Back in power, the party rightists in early 1992 introduced a policy of introducing special economic zones throughout the nation, seeing their laissez-faire approach as an effective developmental model. Two years later, the Communist Party committed itself to a full century of its new (from 1979) “open-door” trading policy and reintroduced college tuition as a trade-off to students demanding more choice in their college studies. The year after that, sex education was introduced. You get the picture: liberalization on all fronts resumed in a big way after the Cold War.
When Deng died in 1997, Jiang Zemin, a Chinese neoconservative (i.e. right wing social conservative), was effectively left in command for much of the ensuing decade. His right wing economic policies and conservative line on cultural issues was probably an even better reflection of the peasants’ views than Deng’s position was. If the Dengists can be said to represent something like libertarianism and accordingly today find a base of support mostly amongst Chinese capitalists and affluent urban youth, the neocons find their support mostly among the peasants, who today now, for the first time, compose only a minority of the population, although many of the peasants have more recently become downwardly mobile and restive over that as result of the government’s developmental policies that favor urban business interests over farmers. But in today’s more developed China, most people can be described as leftists, as more recent opinion polls have shown that at least 60% of Chinese people today consider economic inequality to be the country’s main problem. From what angle you approach that is mostly determined by your age: the older generations of leftists remain in the Maoist camp, while most of the youth belong to an emergent democratic socialist camp. These two forces united in the late 2000s under the leadership of Bo Xilai to wage a unified culture war against the party rightists, which was accompanied by a spontaneous wave of unauthorized labor strikes. The so-called red culture movement was popular enough that Bo was considered a likely candidate for admission to the elite Political Bureau Standing Committee of the Communist Party in 2012. But when it was revealed in March of that same year that he had ties to the murder of one of his wife’s business rivals, he was expelled from the Communist Party, and more recently has been convicted of corruption and jailed for life. Bo’s rapid political descent effectively ended the red culture movement and benefited the Dengist wing of the party in particular, which has controlled the nation continuously again since Jiang Zemin’s retirement in the mid-2000s.
I guess I got slightly off base there, but my point is that this all goes to show the relative inflexibility of the interests of different demographic groups. The poorest of the poor are, in an overall sense, always natural s subscribers to the ethos of redistribution according to need (or what we would call rationing) because it corresponds to their needs, and that’s true amongst peasants as well: the landless peasants in particular almost invariably supported socialistic reorganizations, even when they were non-profit ones, because they had little enough under the older systems to benefit from them. But the average peasant, as a small (albeit typically hopelessly indebted) landowner, by contrast, had the same basic type of relationship to production and distribution that the capitalist has: that of a seller of things. Accordingly, such peasants benefited the most from a market economy. That doesn’t mean that it had to be a CAPITALIST market economy mind you, as shown by their willingness to support the reorganization into farming cooperatives that ran from 1953-55, but their interests do nonetheless correspond to the presence of a market economy of some kind. That’s what they benefit from the most; what makes them the happiest. In good times, they’ll tend to instinctively favor private ownership specifically. As shown, though, for example, by the American populist movement of the late 19th century, when downwardly mobile, they’ll become more open to collectivistic forms of organization, albeit still within a market framework. (The downwardly mobile American farmers often spontaneously formed cooperatives from the late 19th century because they it enabled them to do things like buy in bulk, thus lowering their cost of living, for example.) To turn the clock back even further, the overwhelmingly agrarian U.S. population of the 1780s turned in sections to very radical, collectivist politics (in part under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays) during the disastrous depression of the 1780s, then embraced Jeffersonianism from the late 1790s as the depression lifted. This illustrates the impact of upward vs. downward mobility, as well as that of degrees of poverty, on the worldview of farmers. Anyway, Jefferson cannot be described as an average farmer, but his worldview did correspond to the normal worldview of yeoman (that is, poor) farmers (and the vast majority of agrarians in that era were poor). He believed that society should not industrialize, but rather that America should become a nation of small-time, independent farmers with a relatively egalitarian wealth distribution and a market economy. Such a view was analogous to the demands of the French peasants, who in that same era were seizing the lands of their feudal lords and redistributing it in an equitable manner. (It’s no coincidence that Jefferson was also a supporter of the French Revolution.) As that vision began to fade into the distance with the industrialization that followed the American Civil War in particular, the farmers began to organize for one last great fight for it. But, as I’ve just described, by this time it was the farmers, not the urban capitalists, who needed government assistance to stay afloat.
To make another important point here, why was China’s adoption of capitalism so much more successful than Russia’s? After all, Russia is a poor country today. Average life expectancy fell by 10 years during the long depression of 1990s that immediately followed the implementation of the “shock therapy” policy of rapid privatization. Conditions are so terrible that emigration has been the main trend since the early ’90s, and Russia’s population size, as a result, is projected to continue falling from the current 140 million to 120 million by 2050. Russia’s transition to capitalism hasn’t worked out nearly as well as China’s for two basic reasons:
1) Russia was a much more developed country by the time they adopted market economics and then capitalism, and accordingly had much more of a working class population dependent on benefit packages rather than a populace of hungry peasants that benefit from market economics as sellers of things. Market economics don’t work so well for a population with a different relationship to production and distribution; one that depends on selling its ability to work. (One can see as much even in wealthier countries like this one. For instance, even long after the victory of capitalism over the slave economy of the South by way of the American Civil War, the overwhelming majority of the population remained very poor well through the 1930s, even after general industrialization. It was not until the state-supported major unionization drives of the ’30s and more especially the early ’40s secured key economic benefits for the general working population either directly or indirectly that prosperity began to really be generalized. And in our post-union era we’ve seen the size of the middle class fall off dramatically, and it will continue to do so.) That AND…
2) Russia’s adoption of capitalism was organized in an imperial fashion by the United States and accordingly was planned in such as way as to subjugate Russia (a fact which the Russian masses are kind of angry about), whereas China has always remained more protectionist when it comes to their core national industries.
The first point explains a major part of why China’s growth rates are slowing today, including why the population has turned to more left wing politics: their relationship to production and distribution has changed as a result of industrialization. Peasants are becoming urban wage-workers. Today 52.6% of China’s population lives in urban areas and that figure is expected to rise to more like 70% in the next 10 or 15 years.
To very briefly sum this all up, wealth levels are a HUGE, and often decisive, factor in one’s overall worldview. However, one’s relationship to the production and distribution process — whether one survives by selling things or by selling their ability to work — is also an important factor. Both of these things must be taken into consideration by socialists and communists when they find themselves in a position to determine public policy. Both of these things, not one to the complete exclusion of the other, are relevant to possibilities. Both play important roles in determining what kind of, and what extent of, economic reorganization is possible. A peasant population tends overwhelmingly to come with certain limits even though it’s usually composed of poorer strata precisely because peasants have the same basic relationship to the production and distribution process that other business owners do. However, being usually poorer (at least in most countries; not in ours today), they are also amendable, especially when downwardly mobile, to relatively egalitarian solutions like that of a socialist market economy. A non-profit economy though won’t be something the average agrarian will go for. A non-profit economy requires a working class population — one dependent on the sale of its labor power — for sustenance.
As many of you know by now, I used to be with the Leading Light Communist Organization: a small, multinational group that sought to employ a strategy of global people’s war in order to establish a worldwide socialist system that could lead to a communist future for humanity as a whole. The LLCO saw the main contradiction (i.e. the leading cause of social tensions) in the contemporary world as being that between the populations of rich areas on the one hand and the populations of poor areas on the other, and that the only way to resolve this contradiction was for the world’s impoverished majority to defeat their oppressors in the wealthy parts of the world through majoritarian revolutionary warfare, whereupon the victors would redistribute the world’s wealth equitably and institutionalize said condition through a total collectivization of property ownership.
For those who don’t understand this revolutionary strategy, It’s Right to Rebel! — a forerunner to the LLCO — posted a couple videos online laying out how it works back when they were still around. Part one briefly explains the historical origin and concepts of protracted people’s war, while part two explains the historical basis for, and nature of, applying this revolutionary strategy not just on a national scale, but on a worldwide scale. Most of the contents — the parts spoken by the female voice — are taken from the 1965 work Long Live the Victory of People’s War! by then-Chinese-leader Mao Zedong’s top army commander Lin Biao, while the parts spoken by the male voice provide the particular interpretation and practical application thereof embraced by IRTR first and its successor, the LLCO, thereafter. For historical context, Lin Biao wrote Long Live the Victory of People’s War! as a look back on the 20 years that had passed since World War 2 from a Maoist perspective. I’ll post the videos below for the sake of my readers being informed.
(I apologize for the lame monotone of the dialogue. IRTR was something of a paranoid organization that believed its members constantly endangered by CIA spying on the Internet.)
So what makes this a dated approach to the advancement of communism, you ask? I think the course of history has shown that there are two conditions that are invariably necessary for this particular strategy for defeating imperialism to work: 1) an overwhelmingly agrarian population, and 2) the absence of political democracy. While these conditions characterized most of the world in 1965, when Lin Biao wrote Long Live the Victory of People’s War!, they do not today. Furthermore, history also shows that a majority-peasant population cannot be won to full-fledged socialism and communism in the realm of ideas. They might be won over to an embrace of market socialism (i.e. the kind based on cooperatives), but not to the general abolition of market competition, being that farmers, as business owners, are natural profiteers. That’s their relationship to the production and distribution process. Therefore, a broad united front led by a coalition of urban workers and peasants can only lead so far given that such a coalition will naturally tend to fall apart once you try to go so far along the road to communism. The social base for heavily planned economies is specifically a proletarian (i.e. relatively poor) urban workforce.
I could run through lots and lots of history to substantiate the above points, but I think the history of more developed countries and locations (be they rich or poor) in particular speaks for itself. It’s not just that people’s war (majoritarian revolutionary warfare) needs to be adapted to more urban settings, relying on a different coalition of class forces, given that most of the world’s population today lives in urban areas. Rather, it’s that it cannot be so adapted! When it comes to urban areas, the poorer the location, the more upheaval one will tend to find. That rule holds as true for an urban context as it does for a rural context, showing that wealth levels are fundamental in determining whether or not radical potential exists in a given area, and thus to any accurate definition of the proletariat and bourgeoisie respectively. However, the upheaval that sweeps poor urban areas does not take the shape of warfare. Warfare is not a natural occurrence in urban settings. Rather, protest is the main form of class struggle that takes place in developed areas of the world. In as far as the urban areas of of the world go to war, it principally war with elements from the countryside. This understanding, manifestly obvious today, explains much of the 20th century, including, for example, why it was that the Soviet Union wound up turning to a policy of “peaceful coexistence” once most of its population had moved to urban areas, while Mao’s far less developed China steadfastly maintained a more belligerent stance.
As to democracy, a relatively egalitarian political structure is valued most by intellectuals. In a world wherein each generation, of necessity, now gets more education than the last, the demand for democratic forms of political organization, as well as general social egalitarianism (opposition to racial and gender biases, etc.), is naturally on the increase. You really can’t win people over to an embrace of single-party states anymore today like you once could, and I could argue that those were always doomed to be temporary.
None of this is to say that revolution is outdated as a political concept, but simply that it takes different forms than it traditionally has under the prevailing conditions of today. Any transfer of the bulk of state power from one group to another — from one party to another — accomplishes pretty much the same feat as the overthrow of a government might have in times past. In other words, electoral power transfers are revolutions, and they occur pretty regularly in the modern world. We’ve simply institutionalized the process in order to render it more civilized. Democracy is, in another way of putting it, simply war (and more specifically class war) by other means.
Another thought is that the American empire is no longer what it once was in terms of relative strength at this point and that it won’t be able to continue this policy in a recognizable form forever. Conditions have changed since 1965 and are continuing to change. In general, the trend over the long haul is toward Marx’s belief concerning what the shape of the world would come to look like under capitalism: with a subsistence-level 90% and a rich 10%. No middle class anywhere. Hence in the long run it will become increasingly important for us to shift somewhat away from a focus on national contradictions because they’ll become less relevant over the course of this century as capitalism becomes a more global system and capitalists more powerful than governments. For now though, I believe the national contradictions remain very important to correctly understanding the shape of the world though. And yes, proponents of proletarian revolution SHOULD view property owners — including middle class people — as enemies because they line up together, politically. As much is a contention against “99 percent” sloganeering. In this country the progressive sections of the population — the poor and the subsistence-level workers — I believe these strata collectively compose 40 to 45 percent of this country’s population, as I’ve explained elsewhere, and they compose more than 80 percent of the world’s population. The most important section of the population for socialists and communists to focus on going forward will be the unemployed because they’ll be growing in number over this century. The problem of overpopulation, in other words: the increasingly huge numbers of people that this system can’t find a use for because it’s not profitable to put them to work. Like working class people, these are people with no material investment in this system, but unlike working class people, the unemployed have lots and lots of spare time on their hands to get into politics. They can thus form a very important political base and should be the main recruiting pool for communists and socialists going forward, I believe.
As to political coalitions, there’s no sense in formulating what kind of political coalition is appropriate, for there will inevitably be multiple layers of coalitions under bourgeois conditions like ours. Narrowing the coalition we aim for ideologically only becomes possible in reality with the reproletarianization of society. For example, the Democratic Party is a giant coalition of proletarian and liberal bourgeois elements: a broad center-left coalition, if you will. Probably the broadest kind possible. Under present conditions, it’s necessary for the proletariat to be part of such an alliance if it is to stop the worst possible onslaught against it because it (the proletariat) is not in the majority. However, within this coalition, there are also smaller, more ideologically unified alliances. The bourgeois liberals prevail in terms of control of the party. They’re organized into the Democratic Leadership Council. There is also, however, a Congressional Progressive Caucus and numerous progressive and communitarian citizen organizations that correspond to it.Those represent the proletariat; the left; those pursuing a general increase in social and economic egalitarianism. As the proletariat becomes a majority of the population (i.e. as the population becomes increasingly impoverished over time by the natural workings of this system), it may, in theory, gain the ability to take overall control of the Democratic Party OR it may opt to form its own separate party. So, to sum this up again, the Democratic Party has within it organized centrist and left wing factions that correspond to its competing class interests. But anyway, what you see happening in France and Britain concentrates this same trend in those countries: there you see that the left is gaining traction within the major center-left alliance again. With the concurrent re-proletarianization of society. In Greece this is even more so because hey’re at a more advanced stage of re-proletarianization.
4) The whole center-left.
In this country, only the fourth can win general elections. The third, however, inevitably operates within that center-left alliance against the right, competing with the centrists for influence. In Venezuela, by contrast, the governing alliance falls into the second category. (Well technically it’s actually an alliance of the whole left, but most Venezuelan leftists are socialists, so the governing alliance calls itself socialist and Marxist specifically.) That’s possible there because the population is poorer and leftward political momentum has been built up. I see our conditions today as representing one early stage of coalition organization, which we’ll be able to purify as time goes on and the class composition of society changes. A country with a proletarian majority can afford for its left to narrow the scope of its political alliances because it can win general elections by itself. American progressives are already strong enough, however, to win local elections and Congressional seats. In some states (like mine) they can win statewide elections (as in to Senate seats, not just to House districts or mayor’s seats. When a progressive can win the presidency again, we’ll be in an exciting place, but we’re not there yet. Patience and diligence are unfortunately required.
My hope is that, in the meanwhile, all of this may ultimately be rendered moot over the course of this century by trends in technological developments that eliminate the problem of scarcity, thus rendering a transition to a free economy inevitable spontaneously, without need of political efforts, as I’ve discussed in an earlier post on futurist communism. In this sense, I consider myself both a democratic socialist and a futurist communist simultaneously.
In May of 1949, amidst the outbreak of the Cold War and the according beginning of the suppression of the communist and socialist movements in this country, Albert Einstein authored a piece in the Monthly Review (a socialist publication) advocating the establishment of democratic socialism based on the foundation of a planned economy and defined by public ownership of the means of production, which he believed should take the form of ownership by a world government. He reasoned that this solution was essential for humanity’s survival on the grounds that the one-sided individualism of the capitalist system was diluting the social conscience of our species in such a way as to lead in the direction of a third, atomic world war with the potential to wipe human beings from the face of the Earth entirely. He reasoned that only a socialist system could adequately provide for the needy and provide an educational system that would reinforce the human social conscience. One may find the original article online here, but in recognition of the general laziness of the Internet age, I figure it also prudent to post the material directly, in video form, below since someone has taken the opportunity to make a recording of the article’s contents. This way no one need over-exert themselves by having to click on a link and read. (Let’s face it, very few would bother if I simply linked to the article.)
Hindsight being 20/20, we can now see that there is something valid and something invalid here. Let’s start with the invalid part because I think it should be obvious: clearly humanity survived the Cold War not only without adopting socialism, but with the general collapse of socialism and the general victory of the capitalist system worldwide, so clearly socialism was not actually needed for the survival of our species, and thus Einstein’s main argument has been discredited by subsequent events. However, it’s worth contextualizing them because Einstein was far from the only person in his own age who believed similarly. Stalin, along with most communists of his age, believed a third world war inevitable, for instance, and that one could only hope that the communist side would emerge victorious from such a conflict. In fact, most people believed that the victory of one system or the other would be necessary to avoid a third world war and indeed the threat of one was averted only by the defeat of one system: it just wasn’t socialism. To contextualize further, polling data shows that right up to the 1980s, most Americans believed that, whether they liked it or not (and the data also shows that they didn’t), communism was inevitable and that America would eventually be overrun by the Soviet Union. People today may see the victory of capitalism as having been more or less inevitable and believe that just common sense, but it WASN’T the common sense consensus at all just a few decades ago. Almost up to the end of the Cold War, the prevailing belief was in the inevitability of communism, even here in the United States. But the victors write the history books.
Anyway, the valid part of Einstein’s case is the point he makes concerning the deleterious effect that the individualistic ethos of capitalism has on humanity’s social conscience. A few years back, this deleterious trend in the social conscience of Americans and Britons, among others, was documented by filmmaker Adam Curtis in his documentary film on the history of the application of psychology entitled The Century of the Self, which you can view in full at the link. But it’s not just First World populations we’re talking about here. In making her retrospective defense of communism a few years back, for example, Zsuzsanna Clark explained in part that social consciousness had been a defining feature of her nation of Hungary during its communist years when she grew up, whereas the advent of capitalism has almost entirely destroyed it there. This illustrates the point that the same basic rule applies everywhere, regardless of how rich or poor a country is: the individualistic mentality of capitalism erodes the social conscience of society toward a rejection of the whole idea of society and a contempt for people in general. Thus we see that, on this point, Einstein was clearly correct. What are the consequences of a diluted social consciousness, of anti-social attitudes, you ask? Aside from a documented rise in sociopology and the glorification of clear-cut historical sociopaths like Ayn Rand, U.S. President Obama has pointed out some of them fairly recently. In a speech that he gave a couple months back, he connected recent increases in racial tensions and the heightening of other cultural contradictions up to growing economic inequality in this country, contending that increases in economic inequality tend to also yield increases in cultural inequality and the corresponding tensions. In short, it frays the fabric of society, causing us to see ourselves in more narrow terms rather than as part of a national community. To address issues like these, he has been channeling Teddy Roosevelt in calling for a “new nationalism” of sorts. One can check out the contents of this “new nationalism” in the speech he gave back in late 2011 shown below:
But can the president’s “new nationalism” suffice to restore what has been lost in terms of conscience in this post-Cold-War era we find ourselves in wherein businesses are more powerful than countries, or is a simple revival of patriotism (particularly given the parasitic nature of American patriotism) starting to look like a naive and outdated solution in this new context? I think it is. Does the restoration of the human conscience in truth today require the kinds of solutions that Einstein spoke of: a meaningful global government (as to check the power of global corporations) and even a socialist reorganization of society? I believe so. And THAT requires us to focus on building international proletarian class consciousness, not patriotic sentiments.