2006 - The Socialist State System
This is a revised and expanded version of an article written in 1998 as part of the rupture from the CRC, CPI(M-L) line, with the title ‘On the Theory of Non-class aspects’.
A vigorous debate on some fundamental questions, such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, its institutions and socialist democracy, has emerged within the international communist movement. Far removed from academic exercises or post-mortems on the socialist project, this debate is guided by pressing theoretical and practical concerns over the prevention of capitalist restoration. It is timely, in the context of the emerging new wave of world proletarian revolution, which is visible not only in the People’s Wars and other revolutionary movements led by the Maoists but also in the growing ranks of struggle and resistance against imperialist aggression and occupation and globalisation. The revolutionary masses are today divided in different camps. There are also a lot of false flags. Reformist and revisionist solutions to globalisation, consolidated in the World So- cial Forum, are one of them. Islamic fundamentalism is yet another. But contradictions driving revolution are intensifying and revolution is the main trend. In itself, this points out that the world situation is more favourable for the revolutionary masses than for the imperialists. Turning that into an actuality, establishing Maoism at the head of the emerging wave of world revolution, calls for bold advances in revolutionary practice, particularly People’s War. While our present grasp of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) is certainly capable of accomplishing this, it also demands advances in theory. The debate on the socialist state system has a particular relation to both these tasks. Because the question, ‘what happens after revolution wins victory’, is very much present in the present world. It is used by the apologists of imperialism and reaction to turn the masses away from revolution with the argument that “one can’t make revolution without answering this.” Such an orientation blocks all possibility of resolving the issue and paves the way to liquidationism.
The debate on dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy is not new. In the early 1990’s a sharp polemic was waged within the RIM against the liquidationist positions of the erst- while CRC, CPI(M-L) on these issues. While the present debate is progressing on the better footing of the actuality of revolutionary practice, it also touches on some of the issues and views of the past. Some of the key topics of this debate are the refutation of bourgeois democracy, lessons of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and synthesising experiences on the institutions of proletarian rule. The liquidationist positions of the CRC, CPI(M-L) also dealt with these topics from a bourgeois standpoint . As such, they remain as a useful negative example. Hence, it wouldn’t be irrelevant to revisit questions posed by that struggle. They relate to philosophy, such as class stand, method and the fundamentals of Marxism and to scientific socialism, such as the role of the party in the socialist state system.
We will begin with the concepts underlying the CRC, CPI(M-L)’s criticism on the dictatorship of the proletariat1. They can be summarised as follows: 1) The contradiction between individual and society is distinct from class contradiction; 2) While democracy is a form of state, it is also a form of social organisation, which effectively deals with the individual-society contradiction; 3) Thus, though democracy as a form of state is a class dictatorship, it also has a non-class aspect.
These concepts were later expanded on by K. Venu, who had been trying since the mid 1980’s to formulate a ‘theory of non-class as- pects’ (TNCA). This theory shares a lot with bourgeois, petty bourgeois critics of Marxism and their latest fad ‘post modernism’. In the Indian context, it lends support to those who argue that Marxism cannot address the caste question or similar issues because of its class stand. TNCA claims that this weakness emerges from ‘class reductionism’ and pretends to be a ‘dialectical correction’.
Democracy as a form of social organisation
Marxism teaches that the state emerged at a specific period in the history of social development, marked by the emergence of classes. Ever since then, class struggle has been the motive force of social development. Though it pretends to agree with this, TNCA really negates this. In its view, different social and political organisational structures ‘also’ reflect the evolution of a fundamental contradiction of human society, namely the individual-society contradiction. To prove this, it argues that even in tribal society (that is, classless society) social organisation was centred on the resolution of this contradiction.
This is sheer sophistry that ignores the fundamental distinction between forms of social organisation in classless societies and the state systems of class societies. Even in a tribal society undergoing transition to class society, this social organisation (tribal council, chiefhood etc) is not yet alienated from society as a force stand- ing above it. Whereas in class society, the state and other similar forms of social organisation that have a direct political role, have this distinct character. This is because they emerge from class antagonisms and serve to handle these antagonisms in the interests of the ruling class.
‘Form of social organisation’ is a favourite of TNCA precisely because it helps in covering up such distinctions. Any organisation or institution formed by a group of individuals coming together to carry out a common interest is a form of social organisation. But, depending on their social origins and role, they will differ from one another qualitatively. If democracy is to be analysed as a form of social organisation, one must necessarily start from its qualitative distinctions. These consist in the following: 1) it deals with the political, social and economic functioning of a society as a whole; 2) it emerges at a particular historical stage. Since the topic of discussion is bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy (class democracies), attention must be paid to analyse them in relation to the distinct features of the emergence and historical evolution of the state. This is how Marxism treats the question. And this is exactly what is given up by TNCA.
TNCA claims to have discovered something new by stating that democracy is not only a form of state but also a form of social organisation that deals with the individual-society contradiction. It declares that Lenin missed this and projects this omission as the fundamental theoretical fault in the theory and practice of the dictatorship of the proletariat. What does Marxism have to say on this? We will quote from “German Ideology’, one of the earliest works of “...(T)he division of labour implies the contradiction between the separate individuals ... and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another...(T)his communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination...but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided.
“And out of this very contradiction between the interest of the individual and that of a community, the later takes an in- dependent form as the state, divorced from the real interests of individual and community, and at the same time as an illusory communal life, always based, however, on the real ties existing...especially...on the classes, already determined by the division of labour... of which one dominates all the others.”2
What does this mean? In the first place, it is quite clear that the founders of Marxism were quite aware of the individual-society contradiction. Moreover, they were well aware of its relation to the state, to the fact that the state handles this contradiction also. But Marx and Engels were not satisfied with appearances. They applied dialectical materialism to get at the essence. They pinpointed the qualitative transformation of the individual-society contradiction caused by the emergence of division of labour, private property and class society. In class society, this contradiction contains something new; a new motion. Because of private property and class exploitation, individuals seek only their particular interest. But, they can do so only as part of the division of labour. Such division of labour also implies the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. Thus, this contradiction and its motion become qualitatively different from classless society. It can only be handled through a new type of social organisation, the state. But the state can only be an illusory social life. In reality, society is split apart as classes. Individuals are members of this or that class. There is no real community of interests between the antagonistic classes or all members of society. Hence,“… imposed on them as an interest ‘alien’ to them and ‘independent’ of them ... as ... a particular, peculiar ‘general’ interest; or they themselves must remain within this discord, as in democracy.”3
In other words the state itself is a form of social organisation. It handles the new conflict between individual and ‘common’ interests. But it can handle it only by imposing the particular interest of the ruling class as a ‘common’ interest. Hence it is necessarily alien and independent - a force ‘standing above society’. This imposition may be done in different forms. It can be naked feudal despotism. It can also be bourgeois democracy. In this case, the constitution, proclaimed in the name of all citizens, merely formalises an imposed agreement. It is an agreement to “remain within this discord”. That is, to remain in a society marked by the antagonistic conflict of classes. (The individual- society contradiction now expresses itself through this conflict.)
In view of these Marxist positions what has TNCA achieved? It separates a feature common to all states (that is, dealing with the individual- society contradiction) and limits it to bourgeois democracy alone. All that is new is its variation in the revisionist vulgarisation of the Marxist theory on state. The TNCA does this to claim that bourgeois democracy “effectively deals” with this contradiction and to argue that there cannot be any other form of state better than this. This is absurd and ahistorical. The slave states and caste-feudal kingdoms were just as "effective" in dealing with this contradiction, in keeping with existing historical conditions and the class interests of the respective ruling class. In essence, TNCA denies the withering away of the state and any possibility of re-establishing a real com- munity of interests in society. It is true that one can grade various state forms on the scale of historical development. But all of them, including fascism and social fascism, necessarily deal with the contradiction between individual (particular) and social (general) interests - primarily as members of antagonistic classes.
There is a basic difference between the Marxist method of analysis and the TNCA’s methodology. Marxism abstracts and uses categories, such as individual and society, as tools to deepen analysis and arrive at a synthesis. But it does this by dealing with their contradictory motion in the actual course of historical development. It does not pick up such abstractions and fit historical development into them. Marxism grasps human society as a complex ensemble of social relations. It points out that every human being is primarily a social being. The consciousness of individuality itself emerges from social relations. The methodology of TNCA is opposed to this. Its analysis tends to the position that there is first such a contradiction (individual-society contradiction), which then evolves through social development. It deals with categories not as tools of analysis, but as abstract ideas from which analysis should emerge. thus, in its analysis, the individual-society contradiction is not abstracted from real social relations. It tries to derive such relations and the motion of this contradiction itself from its 'idea' about this contradiction. This is not dialectical materialism. It is idealism and metaphysics.
Equality of average individuals
TNCA charges that there is a “total absence of a theory of individual” in Marxism, because individuals are considered only as class individuals. It accuses Marxism of neglecting ‘non-class factors’ like biological and sociological influences in the making of an individual. It claims that, instead of class analysis, ‘a comprehensive analysis of the interrelationship among different aspects like biological and other material back- ground, historical and sociological conditions, economic and class structure and the superstructural realm’ must be carried out. Furthermore, it declares that biological and other factors also play a determining role under certain conditions.These accusations are baseless. Breaking away from both idealism and metaphysics, Marxism points out that “…the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.”4
Any theory of individual that separates it from this ‘ensemble of social relations’ is bound to end up in the worst form of idealism.
Similar to its use of ‘form of social organisation’, TNCA brings up the question of biology and so on to confuse the issue. The individual can be a subject of different types of analysis. One can study this category as a biological entity, just as much as one studies it as a social being. So the question is not whether biological and other similar factors are ignored or not. What is to be settled is whether the individual as a bio sidered as a prime category of social or historical analysis. For example, a study of biological sex differences between individuals cannot be done through the category of individual as used in social analysis. On the other hand, to carry out a fruitful analysis of men and women and their interrelationship in a given society, we must analyse them principally as genders, not as biological entities. In such an analysis, what are of interest are not the biological particularities of the two sexes, but the social role these particularities assume under gender construction. Unlike biological sex differentiation, gender differentiation is a social construct. And, like all other social constructs in class society, class relations determine it. Not just in general but always.
Contrary to TNCA’s accusation, Marxian class analysis offers the only way for carrying out a materialist analysis of the individual as a social being. It unravels the contradictions, which both form it and propel it in class society. Marx pointed out: “The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class... (the) class in its turn achieves an independent existence over and against individuals, so that the latter find their conditions of existence predestined, and hence have their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class...” “In the course of historical evolution, and precisely through the inevitable fact that within the division of labour social relationships take on an independent existence, there appears a division within the life of each individual..(t)he division between the personal and the class individual..."5
This analysis of the division between the individual into personal and class individual and the subjugation of personal development to class gives a piercing insight into the individual in class society.It breaks away from the idealist and ahistorical concept of individual and opens up an analysis of the historical motion of this category. It enables Marxism to grasp the historical significance of the individual stepping onto the stage of philosophical and political discourse in bourgeois society and guards against any mechanical reductionism. It also allows it to expose the real chains that fetter this ‘darling’ of bourgeois, petty bourgeois theories of freedom and democracy. Marx wrote: “(O)nly in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc., personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class and only insofar as they were individuals of this class.”6
What Marx means here by ‘community’ is a society that has abolished class distinctions and the division of labour it is based on. He points out that in all the substitutes for this community (including the illusory community imposed by an exploiting class in the form of its state) personal freedom is not really freedom. It is as impossible as a community of interests between all people living in a class divided society. Individual members of the ruling class certainly enjoy the ‘freedom’ to share in the spoils of exploitation. But they do this not as an expression of individual choice. They do it as members of the ruling class and they can do it only thus. Obviously, even these individuals do not enjoy this freedom because they are human beings endowed with individuality. It depends on the accident or chance event of their membership in the exploiting class. They obtain it irrespective of their individual inclinations. Their individuality does not count in this, though they may display such inclinations in exercising this freedom. In essence, in relation to this freedom, they are not even considered as real individuals. As Marx goes on to point out, they are only ‘average individuals’ measured by the common yardstick of belonging to the exploiting class.
The historical significance of bourgeois society lies in the fact that all of this is clearly ex- posed. And the conditions are created to go beyond it to a society where the individual can cultivate his or her gifts in all directions. In pre-capitalist societies, social/class position was primarily determined by birth. For example, in a caste-feudal society one is born into a caste. One’s position in the social hierarchy depends on the position of one’s caste, which is predestined. Individuals cannot change their position in this hierarchy, because they cannot change their caste. Hence the accidental, and therefore fraudulent, nature of personal freedom enjoyed by a member of the exploiting class is not evident. But, in bourgeois society, it is possible (though rarely achievable) for individual workers to elevate themselves into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. The opposite is also possible. In this society, what matters is capital not birth. Thus, the accidental, chance, nature of freedom an individual gains by being born into a bourgeois family is exposed under the omnipotent rule of capital itself. A poor Brahmin is still a Brahmin and a rich Dalit still bears some of the burdens of caste. But there is no such thing as a capitalist without capital. If one loses all capital (and fails to regain some) one is no longer a capitalist.
The capitalist system establishes and sanctifies the ‘average individual’ who enjoys freedom by accident or fortune. Its ideologues are satisfied with this and extol it as the fullest blossoming of individuality. This is the ideological basis of its formal declaration of equality. Thus, it clears the ground for surpassing not only its pre- “The proletariat took the bourgeoisie at its word: equality must not only be apparent, must not only apply merely to the sphere of the state, but must also be real, must also be extended to the social and economic spheres.
“The demand for equality in the mouth of the proletariat has therefore a double meaning… either spontaneous reaction against the crying social inequalities… or… reaction against the bourgeois demand for equality, drawing more or less correct and far reaching demands from the latter. In both cases, the real content of the proletarian demand for equality is the demand for the abolition of classes.”7
Why does Marxism link up real equality to the abolition of classes? We can understand this by probing the concept of ‘equal right’. Marx wrote, “Right by its very nature can consist only in the application of an equal standard...”8
For example, the equal rights declared by bourgeois democracy are based on the application of an equal standard, the standard of citizenship. In the ideal case, all those who are citizens of the republic can have these rights. But, to make this measurement by a single yardstick possible, all the individuals in that society must be considered from one definite side only, only as citizens. The common standard of citizenship considers all as equals. Thus, it also covers up class, gender and other social relations (or physical qualities) that enable or disable individuals and make them truly unequal. True, the individual is given due place by his or her rights itself. But this elevation is possible only through a new degradation of the individual. Bourgeois democracy can give individuals due place only as “average individuals” and condemn them to this status. The formal equality of bourgeois democracy’s equality essentially rests on the inevitable formal nature of any equal right.
This helps us to pinpoint a basic contradiction in TNCA. It is indignant with Marxism for not having a ‘theory of individual’. It claims that bourgeois democracy is the best form of state since it accepts the ‘non-class aspect’ and deals with the individual-society contradiction. In fact, the bourgeois ‘theory of individual’ it slavishly follows forces the ‘TNCA individual’ into the prison of ‘average individuals’. What may be considered as the ‘non-class aspect’ of an individual, the “personal individual”, remains locked within class.
As opposed to this, Marxism refuses to be satisfied with the ghost of individual. It refuses to rest with a declaration of equality or even real equality itself. It presents the need to thoroughly eliminate this heritage of class exploitation.
Marx pointed out, “It follows from all we have been saying up till now that the communal relationship into which the individuals of a class entered, and which was determined by their common interests over and against a third party, was always a community into which the individuals belonged only as average individuals. With the community of revolutionary proletarians who take their conditions of existence and those of all members of society under their control, it is just the re- verse. It is as individuals that the individuals participate in it. It is just this combination of individuals (assuming the advanced stage of modern productive forces, of course) which puts the conditions of the free development and movement of individuals under their control…”9
The ‘community of revolutionary proletarians’ means communist society. Later, as Marxism developed, it gained a better grasp of the leap from capitalism to communism. Marx and Engels pointed out that there has to be a transitional stage of socialism between class society and classless society. Marx further developed the analyses of individual and society and of equality. He wrote, “Here… [in the principle ‘each according to his ability, to each according to his work’ fol- lowed in socialism]… the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is the exchange of equal values. “…(E)qual right here is still in principle bourgeois right. “This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labour. It recognises no class differences because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognises unequal individual endowment and thus productive capacity as natural privileges. It is, therefore a right of inequality, in its content, like every right… (U)nequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard in so far as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only… are regarded only as workers… To avoid all these defects, right instead of being equal would have to be unequal... “In … communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour and therewith also the anti-thesis between mental and manual labour has vanished, after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all round development of the individual, and all the springs of co- operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety.”10
This overview of the arguments of the founders of Marxism shows us how they demolished the advocates of bourgeois democracy, precisely by contesting their strong points. They effectively exposed the limits of bourgeois democracy, its historical relevance as well as transience. And they went on to point out the path to surpass it. All of this was done from a consistent proletarian class stand and application of dialectical materialism. In the context of the present debate on the socialist state system it will be useful to examine the extent to which their conception of communism, as a society where individuals participate as individuals, had been integrated with the socialist transition of the past.
The matter of individual, of human, rights must be subsumed within class, within the rights of the masses. But it cannot be pushed aside by either. The powerful arguments of Marxism in this regard, linked to its communist vision, need to be further elaborated. The cur- rent wave of globalisation is on the one hand enforcing standardisation, the faceless masses; even while it promotes the worst type of individualism of the ‘me only’ brand. The reaction to this is still to a large extent influenced by post- modernist illusions on freeing the individual by getting freed of ideology. We need to demolish this. And it must be accompanied with a vigorous re-statement of Marxism’s visionary communist concept on the flowering of individual capabilities in union with society, a goal that can only be achieved through class struggle and a scientific ideology to guide it.
Sticking to fundamentals and developing ideology
An important lesson of the struggle against the CRC, CPI(M-L)’s liquidationist positions was the forceful reminder of Mao’s words, “… the basic principles of Marxism must never be violated, otherwise mistakes will be made.”11
This also gives an orientation to the task of developing Marxism in order to tackle new challenges posed by practice and theory. As we saw in the preceding sections, one of the cornerstones of the CRC’s deviation was its departure from proletarian class stand. The philosophy and method it applied for analysing categories such as individual or democracy, its idealism, meta- physics and ahistorical treatment of the issue, was a consequence. This was then put to service to deny the applicability of class stand in the analysis of various social categories. K.Venu later explicitly formulated this, after the liquidation of the CRC, CPI(M-L), through his at- tack on so-called ‘Marxist fundamentalism’. This was how he chose to characterise a stead-fast defence of the basic principles of Marxism. Venu tried to present his attack as a legitimate struggle against dogmatism.
Leaps in the history of the development of proletarian ideology are marked both by rupture and continuity. One sees a dialectical inter- action between the two. Continuity through rupture, and rupture made possible by continuity. In terms of what was discussed above, this can be described as standing firm on the basic principles (or fundamentals) of Marxism by developing them through creative application to cor- respond to contemporary social reality and tasks. In contrast to this, the history of the communist movement also has numerous examples of revisionist deviations. All of them were sought to be justified by appealing to contemporary tasks, by calling to break away from ‘outmoded’ principles. Diametrically opposed, in appearance, was the dogmatist trend. It’s insistence on sticking to the letter was an appeal to ignore the essence of Marxist principles and their application in given conditions. Both revisionism and dogmatism deny the dialectics of rupture and continuity. But what is it that enables one to grasp this dialectics? The universal truth of Marxism, its class stand, method and, above all, its revolutionary mission. If this is called into question, then we loose our mooring. That was what happened to K.Venu. Today when questions are being raised about ‘re-examining the fundamentals of Marxism’ it would be worth- while to remind ourselves of these ABCs. More- over, the very vagueness of talk on ‘re-examining the fundamentals of Marxism’ without elaborating on what exactly they are, carries the seeds of reducing Marxism to a methodology cut off from its proletarian stand and partisanship. It is very important to stress this today when the old charge of class reductionism is being pressed against Marxism by the influential post-modernist trend.
To give an example, during the past 50 years or so the Marxist grasp of gender, caste, and similar issues has deepened. This has come out of struggle to break away from dogmatist, reductionist thinking that blocked grappling with the pressing questions thrown up by various social movements. But does this mean a negation of the central role of class in understanding social reality (a Marxist fundamental)? Or is it progress towards a deeper grasp of this role? The political manifestation of reductionism has always been economism (whether right or ‘left’ in form). So what is now achieved is not only a deeper grasp but a retrieval of the revolutionary essence of proletarian class stand. It is a strengthening of the fundamentals.
Quite often, creative application of Marxism is blocked by dogmatism. It resists even the very idea of re-examining our positions in the light of current reality or specificities. How do we struggle against this without loosing grip of our basic principles? An advance in grasp, more creative application, which develops Marxism, also involves breaking away from some of the accepted models. But models are not fundamentals. And advance in Marxism is only possible when its basic principles are applied. Though such new advances in Marxism arise from concrete application and verification through practice in a particular country they contain universality precisely because they are guided by the fundamentals. And what is universal is just that. To talk of grading universality as quantitative or qualitative in the context of ideology is meaningless. But, despite containing universality, such advances need not amount to a leap justifying the qualification of ‘Thought’ or ‘Path’. And there cannot be an ideological advance that is relevant for a particular country only, for a particular contingent of the proletariat.5
There is also a matter of method involved in this whole issue. Marxism is also a science. So the comparison is being made with natural sciences, where new discoveries have lead to re- examination of fundamental concepts. This comparison overlooks the qualitative distinction be- tween the natural and social sciences. The distinct character of the latter is their class partisanship. While social facts are part of objective reality, the process of identifying them and seeking out truth, as well as the extent to which truth can be synthesised, are intimately bound up with class stand. Whether something claimed as new is really new is itself a matter of class struggle, in theory as well as in practice. All of this rules out a simple extension of the methods of natural sciences into the re-examining of Marxist positions.
Socialist democracy and the threat of capitalist restoration
The political horizon of CRC, CPI(M-L)’s liquidationism was limited to the formal institutions of democracy — representative institutions and the elective principle. But, the builders of socialism kept their sights firmly on going beyond the ‘right of inequality’, which still existed in proletarian democracy and the distribution principle of socialism. Lenin was proud, and rightly so, that the new Soviet state was a mil- lion times more democratic and qualitatively better than bourgeois democracy. He was also quite clear that it was still a “… bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!”12, since bourgeois right still existed in the form of equality. Bourgeois right itself is one of the most important barriers to the final elimination of classes. And without the elimination of classes there can never be the ‘combination of individuals’ with the fullest participation of individuals as individuals in social life. In socialism, bourgeois right exists in the economic base as well as in the superstructure. (In the superstructure it is present in the contradictions between the leaders and the led and between the state and the masses). New bourgeois elements are mainly engendered by these material relations. The test of socialism or capitalism is answered by those who stand for restricting and abolishing bourgeois right and those who stand for preserving, expanding and consolidating it. Bourgeois right itself becomes an issue of class struggle. Summing up the experiences of the Soviet Union, Mao Tsetung brilliantly developed the Marxist concept of party and the theory of continuing the class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat. His criticism on the ‘monolithic party’ concept and development of two line struggle are well known. They had a direct bearing on defending the dictatorship of the proletariat and developing socialist democracy. The GPCR both validated and developed all of this. It was the crucible in which Marxism-Leninism took the leap and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism fully emerged. It conclusively proved that the communists can unleash the revolutionary initiative of the masses in all its dazzling diversity, to the extent they persevere in class struggle and forge ahead in restricting bourgeois right. The masses were not only involved in state affairs on a scale never seen before. The struggle to re- strict bourgeois right was also deepened in theory and practice. New and rich forms of mass supervision and participation in running the state and party such as the ‘big character posters’ and recruitment of new party members through mass meetings emerged and were institutionalised. These, including the right to strike, were later enshrined in the new Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. They were won through bitter class struggle against the capitalist roaders and could only be retained and developed through this struggle. All of this called for strengthening the all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie. As Mao pointed out, “Lack of clarity on this question will lead to revisionism”.7
The restoration of capitalism in China definitely calls on the Maoists to further build on this high pinnacle achieved by the proletariat, both in theory as well as in practice. But they can do this only if they guard against the perils of an idealist vision (in both of its meanings) of socialist democracy that ignores the threat of capitalist restoration. We must remind ourselves of the material constraints faced by the vanguard during the socialist transition. Apart from that, we must also keep in mind the particular problems posed by the state as such.
Any state represents the political power of the ruling class; its means of imposing its class interests. Precisely for this reason, we cannot extend the criticism on monolithic concept of party to the state. It is by its very nature monolithic. State power cannot be decentralised. In fact, this argument on ‘decentralising power’, picked up by Venu from Gandhi, was a sharp example of idealist views on the state. The state, by its nature, also necessitates some institution that guarantees the continuation of this class interest. The institution of monarchy in feudalism and permanent bureaucracy and army in capitalism are examples. But such institutions, ‘standing above’ society as an alienated force, are not acceptable to the proletarian state since it has the task of giving back this alienated power to society. Yet, being a state, it can’t avoid hav- ing an institution that guarantees (or strives to guarantee) the continuation of the proletariat’s class interest. The solution necessitated by circumstances, and later on theorised, has been the overall commanding position of the party within the state system in socialism; the institutionalised leading role of the party in the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is no point in wishing away this lesson of history.
Recently, views have been advanced on incorporating the principle of allowing dissent, of allowing positions advocated from non-communist positions, in socialist society. They call for the active involvement and initiative of wide sections of the masses and intermediate strata, even if they don’t adhere to the communist ideology, or may even object to aspects of the party’s line and policy. This is correct. But, for all the claims being made, there is really nothing new in this. Similar ideas on allowing opposing ideas to con- tend are already well contained in Mao’ work pioneering work ‘On Handling Contradictions Among the Masses’, where the philosophical and political basis is argued out. It laid the basis for his famous call “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let a Hundred Thoughts Contend.” The limits in actually implementing these policies are also a part of the historical experiences of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They have to be ad- dressed concretely. That is, not just at the level of approach and method but also in terms of the state system. Ideological struggle was not sufficient to drive back the Rightist offensive that opened up during the late 1950’s in China while letting a hundred flowers bloom. They had to be backed up by exercising proletarian dictatorship.8 This was facilitated by the leading position of the party in the state system.
Let us recollect Rosa Luxembourg’s criticism against the Bolsheviks for suppressing dis- sent. She certainly had a point in drawing attention to the stifling of political life under conditions where opposition is suppressed. But, in the given conditions, sticking to this as a matter of principle would have led to the destruction of the new born proletarian state. Lenin’s position on exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat through the party was a shift from his earlier position that acceded to the possibility of the opposition coming to government by winning a majority in the Soviet. It was forced by the fierce struggle against the danger of counter-revolution. In a different context and in relation to the question of involving the masses in running the state, Mao too had to rule out the Commune. Yet, the elective principle of the Paris Commune in forming new organs of power had been one of the cardinal points of the ‘16 point Circular’ that guided the GPCR. This indicates a real contradiction a communist party in power will have to face, the contradiction between its orientation and its concrete application in different circumstances. It emerges from the contradiction be- tween the unique task the proletarian state has of creating conditions for its own extinction and what it has in common with all states as an instrument of coercion. Both these aspects must be addressed.
The commanding position of the communist party is indeed a decisive control over political power, in the sense that other parties are excluded from control over decisive instruments of the state. This is true even when power is exercised by drawing more and more of the masses into running the state and conditions for its final withering away are being promoted. The attendant dangers are also apparent. Apart from the new and old bourgeois elements that will make their way into the ruling communist party, the rotten baggage and bureaucratism inevitably engendered by any institutionalised role will also push away from the goal of advancing to communism. Both Lenin and Mao were aware of this and tried to develop structures and methods to tackle it. We must make further advance in this direction for two reasons. One of them is to limit the inevitable rigidity and bureaucratisation caused by the institutionalised role of the party. The other is to prepare the most favourable conditions for the communists and the revolutionary masses to struggle for the restoration of socialism in the event of capitalist roaders seizing power.
In this regard, some positions put forward on arming the masses are a correct and sound step forward, even if it won’t be the only solution. In the given world situation the proletarian state cannot do without a standing army. But experiences up till now have shown us the importance of creating the best conditions to resist or wage a fresh armed revolution against a capitalist takeover. Similarly, developing better methods to retain the Red colour of the People’s Army,such as keeping it among the masses, is another important lesson. It is not without reason that such steps were bitterly opposed by the capitalist roaders in China. The contrast between the Soviet Red Army, particularly after the 1930s, and the model Mao was trying to develop by drawing on the Yenan experience is also known. This warns us against depreciating the importance of such policies by overemphasising the necessity of perfecting the professionalism of a standing army.
On the other hand, proposals on allowing other political parties to compete with the communist party for government power do not square with the bitter lessons of history. Capitalist roaders, inevitably linked to imperialism, will never respect the socialist constitution once they get to power. Similarly, rotating sections of the party allows for checking bureaucratisation. But what about the line of those exercising power or those due for their turn? Should those with a bad line also get their turn, as a matter of principle? And who gets to control the army? With regard to the socialist state system the crux of the matter is the institutionalised leading role of the communist party. As mentioned earlier, this was a product of circumstances. There is nothing in Marxism which says that this is the only solution. But, so long as those circumstances con- tinue to exist, Marxism must insist on one thing- the new alternative must be capable of dealing with the compulsions that made such a role for the communist party in the socialist state system necessary.
The Commune was defeated because of its weak centralisation. While this was addressed by the Russian revolution, it‘s ultimate defeat left the lesson that centralisation through the party is not the whole answer. This was something Mao tried to deal with throughout the building of socialism in China - in the running of the state, planning, preventing capitalist restoration. We have to advance from this. But we must do so without forgetting the lessons of history and with- out ignoring the need to concretise the correct approach by seeking out better, more suitable, structures for the proletarian state. All the forms of proletarian rule known till now, the Commune, Soviets and Revolutionary Committees, were thrown up by the tumultuous advance of the revolutionary masses making history. This will be true of the future also. The defeats suffered by socialism have inspired Maoists to scale new heights. The new wave of revolution will certainly throw up newer and better forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, more advanced than the Soviets and the Revolutionary Commit- tees. It will create new forms better able to exercise the all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie by drawing in the masses into running the state and arming them to create a sea of armed masses.
1 See ‘Repudiation of the Views on Military Line of theCRC, CPI(M-L)’, Spring Thunder, No:1, 1998, for a critique on the evolution of the CRC, CPI(M- L)’s deviations. An excerpt of this article was published in A World To Win, No: 26, pp 78-88. See also ‘Democracy, More Than Ever We Can, and Must Do Better Than That’, Bob Avakian, A World To Win, No: 17, for the polemic against the CRC, CPI(M-L) document ‘On Proletarian Democracy.’
2 ‘German Ideology’, Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Volume 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, pp 34-35.
3 Ibid, page 35.
4 Theses on Feuerbach’, K. Marx, SW, Volume 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, page 14.
5 ‘German Ideology’, pp 65-66.
6 Ibid, pp 65-66.
7 ‘Anti-Duhring’, F. Engels, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976, pp 134-135.
8 ‘Critique of Gotha Program’, K. Marx, SW, page 10.
9 ‘German Ideology’, page 68.
10 ‘Critique of Gotha Program’, pp 18-19.
11 ‘Speech at CPC’s National Conference on Propaganda Work’, Mao Tsetung , Selected Works, Volume 5, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1977, p 434.
12 See ‘The Fight to Establish Maoism’, Ajith, Naxalbari, No:2. It can be viewed at www.briefcase/ naxalbari_in/yahoo.co.in.
13 ‘State and Revolution’, V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, Volume 2, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, p 310.
14 Quoted from ‘On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship over the Bourgeoisie’, Chang Chun- chiao, ‘And Mao Makes Five’, ed. Raymond Lotta, Banner Press, Chicago, 1978, p 209.
15 See Mao Tsetung’s writings dealing with this struggle in Selected Works, Volume 5, pp 440-482.