Lair Of A Squirrel Red

Help? by korakious
January 22, 2008, 2:27 am
Filed under: announcements, blogging

There have been complaints about the font size. Since I am a bit incompetent, I would very much appreciate it if anyone could tell me how to change the standard font size for blog posts without using a different template.

Also, if you are one of the folks that are bothered by the smallness, please leave a comment to that effect. In case no one can tell me how to fix this, I won’t be changing anything unless there’s a good number of people who find the blog hard to follow.



Marxism, Mao and Politics by Rob
January 18, 2008, 4:59 pm
Filed under: China, Maoism, Marxism, Rob, Theory

Over at Splintered Sunrise an interesting conversation was developing on Badiou, one to which I tried to make a contribution. Anyway some of the points that were made got me thinking a bit, so here I just want to say a few things. Central to this discussion was the question of why the Cultural Revolution might form an important event for some people on the left; my explanation as to why it might follows below, and segues into some more general considerations on Marxism.

My general contention here is that the Cultural Revolution and Maoism more generally, appealed to the late 1960s and 1970s left for a series of interconnected reasons. My key argument is the inadequacy of a Marxist theory of politics, and of the ‘superstructure’ more broadly conceived. In the period after the World War One and the 50s and 60s the state of Marxism – and certainly of ‘official’ Marxism – was pretty moribund. Despite a supposed adherence to Lenin, what we tended to see was a certain mechanical Marxism. In this schematic conception of history, what drove social change was contradictions between the forces of production and the relations of production. This conflict is ‘resolved’ by class struggle, which eventually replaces one mode of production with another.

So in this conception politics and political action is conceived of as being determined or as actualising economics. This type of Marxism doesn’t really have a theory of politics strictly conceived. But this approach brings numerous problems with it. The first problem for this conception is how to explain the relationship between economic and political action. How is it that class struggle can move (as Gramsci put it) from an economic-corporate phase, to a hegemonic phase? And this itself brings the problem from the other direction why is that the contradiction has not yet been actualised. This is of course the classic starting point for a lot of contemporary Marxist theorising – why in the advanced capitalist countries has the working class not taken power?

The answer to this question can’t be found purely in economistic considerations (e.g. the dull compulsion of economic relations) because to look at it this way basically forestalls social change forever (or until the next crisis). In response to this you get the (thankfully long dead) Trot line about a ‘crisis in leadership’. But even the crisis in leadership line is making a grasping attempt to go beyond certain economist lines and move to a more political explanation of the crisis. Basically, then, it seemed that the situations on the ground demanded an examination of the role of ‘superstructure’. But not just as a ‘reflection’ of the base, but in its capacity as decisive. Because the entire issue necessarily must move outside of the economy and onto political and cultural grounds.

And it is here that the Mao becomes central. Mao’s heterodox Marxism represented a fairly innovative intervention into this impasse. This can particularly be seen in Mao’s On Contradiction. Basically, Mao argues that any social totality is a complex of interacting contradictions, all of which contribute towards development and change. However, in every social totality there is a principal contradiction, which serves to give a specific character to all of the other contradictions:

There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions. For instance, in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions, such as those between the remnant feudal class and the bourgeoisie, between the peasant petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, between the proletariat and the peasant petty bourgeoisie, between the non-monopoly capitalists and the monopoly capitalists, between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism, among the capitalist countries and between imperialism and the colonies, are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction.

Such a position is a very interesting one, and we can find echoes of the argument in Althusser’s notion of a totality structured in dominance (and of course we would since Mao is an acknowledged influence on Althusser) and even in Lukács earlier discussion of the role of totality in Marxist thought. The point here is that one can immediately recognise Mao had constructed a theoretical edifice which might be able to bridge the impasse described above. Here we can see a way to articulate the primacy of the contradiction between the forces and relation of production; without having to rely on that for change. The point here is that as a principal contradiction it could shape political ‘contradictions’, even these contradictions became vital.

However, Mao goes further than this. He also argues that every contradiction has a principal and subordinate aspect. It is the principal aspect which will (eventually) supersede that subordinate aspect and so bring change. But further to this Mao argued that in a given struggle around a contradiction, things would develop to the point where what was the principal aspect could become the subordinate aspect and vice versa:

We often speak of “the new superseding the old”. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe. The transformation of one thing into another, through leaps of different forms in accordance with its essence and external conditions — this is the process of the new superseding the old. In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing. It can thus be seen that the nature of a thing is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction, the aspect which has gained predominance. When the principal aspect which has gained predominance changes, the nature of a thing changes accordingly.

So the vision Mao here articulates is one which – in contrast to ‘official Marxism’ is a dynamic one; emphasising struggle. But the coup de grace, and what I would argue made Maoism so attractive to (particularly) the French left is the following passage:

Some people think that this is not true of certain contradictions. For instance, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the productive forces are the principal aspect … in the contradiction between the economic base and the superstructure, the economic base is the principal aspect; and there is no change in their respective positions. This is the mechanical materialist conception, not the dialectical materialist conception. True, the productive forces, practice and the economic base generally play the principal and decisive role; whoever denies this is not a materialist. But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions, such aspects as the relations of production, theory and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role. When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role. The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” When a task, no matter which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy. When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also — and indeed must — recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism.

Obviously, this is long, but I think it basically helps to illustrate the attraction Maoism held for certain people. The whole point is Mao has seriously broken with ‘official’ Marxism, and has attempted to theorise the political. Although Mao presents this as somewhat limited, the implications of this passage (particularly from where we sit) are fairly wide-ranging. Key to my argument is the notion that:

When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive.

But the whole point – at least so far as Marxists were concerned with in the West – is that it is always the ‘superstructure’ which obstructs the development of the base. Because if we are talking about the standard economic conditions which make things ripe for revolution (in the schematic sense) – well they’ve been here for God only knows how long. So what is the allure of Mao for him politics and culture become central. It thus seems that – quite accidentally – Mao addressed the central concerns of the left in Western Europe, since he attempts to theorise the primacy of the political/cultural whilst remaining a materialist. No matter what people think of Mao (and obviously opinions are not high), this particular theoretical position seems interesting.

Now, with this in mind, we can make a few other considerations. Firstly, it might be argued that this position – which stresses the importance of conscious, political action is a ‘Leninist’ one. Well, yes, I’d agree with that entirely, and it’s certainly something that Lenin articulated rather well. But the point is that Leninism – especially in the time period in question – was associated with the ‘Marxism’ of the USSR, which – to all intents and purposes – had reverted back to the Marxism of the second international. Secondly, insofar as Leninism was taken up by the Trotskyist movement it was (1) not always that great and (2) not likely to be taken up by people inside of the official communist movement. That is why Maoism managed to sink its roots into France, I feel. The milieu from which these people came from was one in which official communism (in the form of the PCF) was all powerful – both politically and philosophically – for a time, Maoism seemed to represent an critique of official communism from within the official communist movement.

Another point to bear in mind is that very similar philosophical positions are put forward (in whatever way) by the early Lukács and Gramsci. It’s no coincidence that interest in these two only began to grow around this period – they address precisely the same issues which I’ve outlined above. But Lukács had the great misfortune of being alive at the time; reconciled with the official communist movement and he had of course basically renounced much of History and Class Consciousness. Gramsci, had not yet been translated (I don’t think), and again, he had the misfortune to be placed at the service of the PCI, which even before its explicit Eurocommunism had started moving in such a direction.

So, my point about Mao is that he seemed to address some of the central problems of the time, in an innovative way. This was only reinforced by the fact that the events of the time seemed to suggest political action needed to be theorised. Because not only did the inaction of the working class need to be theorised – but also the action that had sprung up in the late 60s. So in particular, it proved quite difficult for ‘official’ Marxism to theorise les evenements of May ’68, and its response to what was a pretty huge moment was risible to say the least. This is also where the importance of the Cultural Revolution comes in. The Cultural Revolution appeared to be an actualisation of the theoretical positions outlined above. Here politics and culture were assuming the decisive role in transforming China. The emphasis on mass mobilisation obviously chimed with what was happening in ‘the West’ in a way that the experience of the Soviet Union could not.

It also strikes me that there are some other interesting threads that could be picked up (although I will decline to do so for now). Firstly, this concentration on the political (whilst maintaining that these struggles were ‘coloured’ by the principal contradiction) helped provide a way to explain struggle amongst groups not traditionally mobilised by the left (e.g. people who weren’t the manual working class). Secondly, Mao of necessity assumed a crucial role in the attempt to articulate a Marxist understanding of anti-colonialism and development. The inter-twining of the language of Marxism and decolonisation led to some very odd attempts to theorise these issues. Furthermore, most Marxists seemed (and pretty much still do) to accidentally condone mass death in the Third World – which is never a good way to make friends and influence people.

I rather look forward to seeing Splintered post on diamat.

Cross posted to my other abode (which I am determined will regain its readership!)

Raul Castro’s Speech to the National Assembly. by korakious
January 12, 2008, 5:05 am
Filed under: Cuba, Latin America

The Lair reopens after the festive season with a follow up to my previous post about the change of guard in Cuba. This is a speech Raul Castro made to the National Assembly shortly before the end of 2007, on December the 28th. It’s quite interesting in that it bears traits of Andropovian self-criticism, as in opposed to being an “everything is great, we shall prevail” tirade. I promise to return shortly with an actual post.

Compañeras and compañeros:

We have had a good meeting on the Economic Plan and Budget approved for next year. Above all, it has been the briefest in history.

The objective of this speech is to share some reflections with you on the economic and social situation of the country.

Without any doubt this last year has been one of intense work with the active participation of all the people. Less than three months have gone by since the conclusion of the 215,687 meetings organized in the context of the discussion promoted by our Party, based on the concepts expressed at the central event for the 54th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons.

When our Party called for reflections on what was posed on July 26 in Camagüey, the objective was not for us to get to know about problems. Really, the majority of them are known and I talked about many of them on that occasion, at least on the ones that we consider fundamental to the well-being of the population and the effective socioeconomic functioning of the country.

That our appreciation is correct has been confirmed by more than five million citizens in the meetings for study and reflection that took place during September and October, and described as needed and useful.

Many of the proposals refer to local problems or are related to the deficiencies and errors of specific people; so those will have to be confronted and solved in a direct manner where they are occurring.

In response, the different leadership levels of the Party, government, mass organizations and workplaces have been directed to immediately adopt measures to solve problems that do not have to wait for a higher decision, which has been taking place.

The principal and decisive aim of this great effort has been to find, with the conscious and active participation of the overwhelming majority of Cubans, the best solutions within the reach of the country’s economic possibilities, given that, as I said recently, nobody here is a magician or can pull resources out of a hat.

Moreover, time is needed to study, organize and plan how to attain the proposed objectives with the greatest quality and efficiency. The former is not solely dependent on the will or interest of those involved in solving the problem; to a large extent it also depends on the availability of resources and the authority and qualities of the cadres involved and their constancy.

Experience demonstrates the importance of analyzing problems in an integral way, to conciliate decisions and act with rationality.

Of course, not all of the proposals and suggestions can be applied as a whole. A consensus will have to be forged decide the most rational and appropriate ones, as in more than a few cases, they are contradictory, and certain opinions reflect a lack of information, particularly in the economic sphere.

This process has ratified something fundamental: those occupying a leadership post must know how to listen and how to create an opportune environment for the rest to express themselves with absolute freedom. This is something that must be definitively incorporated into the style of work of every leader, in conjunction with the opportune instruction, criticism or disciplinary measure.

We would all like to move faster, but that is not always possible.

Our people receive information in many ways and work is ongoing to improve those ways and eliminate the harmful tendency to triumphalism and complacency, so as to guarantee that every compañero/a with a specific political or administrative responsibility systematically informs on their brief with realism, in a clear, critical and self-critical manner.

That is the objective of the recent TV/Radio “Roundtables” on national issues, with the presence of the heads of the agencies most centrally involved. These will continue to take place as long as there is something important on which to inform. The same thing should be done in the provinces and municipalities, not just by the media but also directly, in the barrios and in people’s workplaces, where many problems can be solved or explained.


The national press has also contributed to an analysis of the issues that are vital to the population and the country’s socioeconomic development. When it is properly exercised, criticism is essential in terms of advancing.

Many compañeras and compañeros are witness to the rigor with which the 1.3 million proposals put together from the 3,255,344 speeches made are being studied. They constitute a highly useful source of information both for the present and the future.

We are in agreement with those who have warned on an excess of prohibitions and legal measures, which do more harm than good. We could say that the majority of them were correct and just in their time, but more than a few of them have been superceded by life, and behind every incorrect prohibition lie a large number of illegalities.

In relation to one of the issues most raised in the meetings: food production and its high price; the country is working with the urgency that that vital matter requires, given its direct and daily impact on the life of the population, above all on those people with lower incomes.

There have been advances in the studies and we will continue to act, with all the speed that circumstances permit, so that land and resources are in the hands of those who are capable of producing with efficiency, so that they feel supported, socially recognized and receive the material retribution that they deserve.

I have not attempted to fully cover any one of the issued raised; we shall have to return to them time and time again. As we hoped, this has been a critical process, in which the majority of our compatriots clearly stated their support for our social system, the Commander in Chief and the Party.

Millions of Cubans expressed considerations and suggestions directed at improving our socialism. As I said a few days ago in Santiago de Cuba, it has been a sound demonstration of the people’s high level of awareness and political culture.


Progress in the economy is undeniable, expressed in the growth of the Gross Domestic Product in recent years, but what particularly interests us is that the positive performance of macroeconomic indicators is reflected as much as possible in the household economy, where everyday shortages are present.

Decisions directed at the gradual solution of different problems in education, health, transport, housing and recreation, just to name a few pressing issues, are being discussed, part of which may be resolved or at least improved in reasonable amounts of time, above all those stemming from subjective causes. The most important of these issues was addressed in the reports given to the deputies for this session of the Assembly, and which were previously thoroughly debated in the commissions.

The solution to many difficulties requires increasing the effectiveness of the investment process. Priorities must be established, labor and resources must be better organized and modern technology must be introduced. This effort should contribute to increasing productivity. And something essential: any investments begun must be concluded in the set time frame, otherwise resources are mobilized without any benefits being seen.

Various other complex matters, such as the existence of two currencies and deformations in the systems of wages and prices, require thorough study, which will be undertaken with the moderation, rigor and responsibility they deserve.

We should determine, with the active participation of everyone, what – under our conditions – are the most effective channels for ensuring sustained growth in national production and the country’s export capacity, reducing imports and investing our resources in well-defined priorities, for systematically seeking productive efficiency and improving the enterprise system linked to performance. Moreover, we are obliged to defend the country’s credibility with respect to its creditors, and to guarantee the necessary resources for investments that ensure a perspective of development.

As was said here, conservation is one of the greatest sources of resources for achieving what I have mentioned, but some citizens, groups of workers and institutions still have an insufficient awareness of its importance.

The criticism of the population is a just one regarding the irrational use of resources in certain state entities due to disorganization, a lack of oversight and exigency, while at the same time social and economic needs remain pending.

However, as I explained in Camagüey, not all problems and shortages are due to internal deficiencies. There is also the influence of an international economic situation that we cannot avoid, characterized by accelerated growth in the prices of the fuel and food that we buy, just to mention two basic lines, although in reality, almost everything we import has gone up in price and will keep going up.

In addition to that, as we know, there are the losses resulting from the economic blockade of Cuba and the need to deal with the consequences of natural disasters produced by climate change, which are growing in magnitude and frequency. Suffice it to point to just one of the climatological events in the eastern part of the country, where were forced to spend an unforeseen $499 million.


As we can see, the challenges we have before us are enormous, but nobody doubts the firm conviction demonstrated by our people in the fact that only socialism can overcome the difficulties and preserve the conquests of almost a half century of Revolution.

A Revolution that belongs to all of us, given that it was born and has grown thanks to the efforts and sacrifice of many generations of patriots. Making it stronger every day until it is invulnerable in every aspect depends on the hands and consciousness of all of us, the Cubans of today and of tomorrow.

It would be suicide not to behave that way in response to a U.S. administration that, as compañero Alarcón has just explained, has intensified its aggressiveness against Cuba in order to satisfy the interests of the most extremist groups in that country.

Evidence of that is the intensification of the economic war as part of the reinforcement of the Bush Plan, which includes measures for putting on pressure and desperate and unsuccessful attempts at destabilizing the country, in order to mount new pretexts for justifying its hostile policy, against which there is increasing international opposition, including among ever-growing layers of U.S. society itself.

Our people take every threat very seriously. That can be seen by Operation Caguairán, which has made it possible to train approximately 430,000 reserve combatants and militia members, as well as other essential tasks like the modernization of our armament, the preparation of the theater of military operations, important maneuvers and the recently-concluded Moncada 2007 exercise, all of which substantially strengthen the country’s defense capacity and lay the foundations that will contribute to the successful execution, at the end of next year, of the strategic exercise Bastion 2008.

Given the intensification of subversive maneuvers and efforts to isolate us internationally, internal stability has been preserved, the country has continued to consolidate its socioeconomic development, and the international prestige of the Revolution has been strengthened.

During the year, as has been mentioned here, significant progress was made in the implementation of strategic programs, which has had a positive repercussion on the economy and on improving our people’s living conditions, such as the “energy revolution,” to cite just one example.

On the political level, the immense majority of Cubans resoundingly demonstrated their determination to preserve and defend the Revolution during the elections for People’s Power delegates this past October, and we are sure that it will be that way this January 20, when we elect our delegates to the Provincial Assemblies and the deputies that will comprise our National Assembly.

In the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba maintained its vitality and influence in important multilateral processes.

Once again, the U.S. government, despite enormous efforts, was unable to impose its attempts to condemn our country in the field of human rights, while at the same time it received a crushing defeat in the United Nations General Assembly record vote against the blockade.

The recent visit by President Chávez, the PETROCARIBE Summit and the progress made by the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) have been important steps in consolidating regional integration mechanisms.

Our work in the coming year should be characterized by its systematic character; effective organization, planning and control; working for priorities and using resources rationally; increasing labor productivity and efficiency; and strengthening integration, cooperation and unity in the leadership activities of state agencies, the government, the Union of Young Communists and mass organizations on every level, in order to face together, under the leadership of the Party, the main problems affecting our people.

In the name of our Commander in Chief, of the Central Committee of the Party and of the members of this Assembly, we transmit to our compatriots well-deserved congratulations, despite all the difficulties and aggressions, for everything we have done to successfully arrive at “Year 50 of the Revolution,” which doubtlessly will also be one of modest victories in every aspect.

The deputies that make up this Sixth Legislature have known how to comply with the mandate of our people and deserve our recognition. Some of you have been newly nominated, others will no longer serve in this capacity and will continue to carry out your usual work, because as it is known, nobody earns one cent for being a member of this Assembly. I can assure all of you that one thing that won’t be lacking is plenty of work.

Whatever the responsibility entrusted to us, we will rise to the level of the trust that our heroic people have placed in us, and to the honor of being soldiers of a Revolution led by a Commander in Chief who, with his example and wisdom, has always led us to victory.

Being worthy of a people who for decades has faced, with courage and stoicism, every danger and difficulty; a people whose youth are demonstrating that they are acting in accordance with their glorious history, with one true example being that of our five heroes imprisoned by the empire, who next year will complete 10 years of unjust punishment in U.S. prisons.

I wish all Cuban men and women a happy 2008. Celebrate, rest, recover your strength, you deserve it.

And let’s all work hard!

Thank you very much.

Have a good one folks by korakious
December 24, 2007, 3:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Fidel hints of retirement from power by korakious
December 21, 2007, 3:25 pm
Filed under: Cuba, Fidel, Socialism, Theory

Sovietological conventional wisdom in the academic Anglosphere revolved, and to a lesser extent still does, around the paradigm of “Totalitarianism”. With the exception of scholars like Lewin and Cohen, academics believed that in the USSR, and by extension, in all Actually Existing Socialist states that followed more or less the same organisational principles, power rested on a single centre of authority with a stranglehold over all levels of society, the Party led by a supreme leader. In “Totalitarian” states, all initiatives came from the top and made their way to the bottom through successive layers of privileged bureaucrats. Change at the top was impossible as long as the leader was alive, because of his absolute power, while there was also no chance of oppositional political initiative coming from the bureaucratic middle class (which bourgeois social scientists tend to regard as a force for change by some bizarre logic) because it had a vested interest in preserving the system. Apart from its inherent methodological ineptitude – lumping together the special case of the USSR, the Eastern European states that were established after the war and those that were built after successful national liberation movements as if they were all one and the same – the Totalitarian paradigm came to be empirically discredited as well for as we all know, or should know, the fall of the USSR was the – immediate – result of an initiative from the very top and the power struggle that followed it at mid level. This brought to the fore the various bizarre ideologies held by the nomenklatura, a product of the bizarre nature of the Soviet system, from gang-ho pro-Western neoliberalism to corporatist nationalism, all of which are represented at different degrees in present day Russia’s political spectrum. It was certainly a far cry from the uniform, religious adherence to “Marxism-Leninism” which Totalitarianism analysts would have us believe.

On Monday, Totalitarianism was dealt a further blow when in a letter to Cuban national television, Fidel Castro hinted that he may soon be leaving the President’s office;. Fidel wrote that:

My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, or even less to obstruct the path of younger people, but to share experiences and ideas whose modest worth comes from the exceptional era in which I lived

This could very well mean that Fidel does not intend to stand for the Council of State, which the National Assembly will have to elect some time before the 5th of March. The most likely successors are Raul Castro and Cuba’s 42 year old Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque. I do not favour any of the two, but I do admit to having a preference for younger leaders. Indeed, a young President would go a long way to fixing State Socialism’s gerontocratic image. In any case however, it is certain that both Fidel and Raul, as well as the rest of the Revolutionary generation will retain strong influence over politics, as do all well respected and popular leaders. And long may they live for their experience is an invaluable asset to the whole of the anti-imperialist wave that is currently sweeping Latin America.

The importance of this is that it is the latest in a series of developments that have included Raul’s encouragement to public debate on various issues, indicating a move towards grassroots democratic developments in Cuba. This is not the result of evil Castro’s withdrawal as various outlets seem to think, but rather the result of Cuba managing to survive the Special Period against all odds, a powerful demonstration of the resilient spirit of the Revolution. The Bolivarian process in Venezuela has also provided vital breathing space for the formerly isolated island, providing Cuba with cheap oil in return for doctors and teachers.

I personally welcome the coming to power of a new revolutionary leadership. I hope that Cuban communists have learned from history that there are many snakes amongst well meaning reformers and that any structural/institutional changes that may be implemented in the future do not in anyway harm the socialist character of the economy. It is very likely that a struggle for power will break out between the reforming elements of the bureaucracy, the Ligachev like conservatives and the Yeltsinites. The latter are the prime enemies of peasants and workers alike. As for the Cuban people – fully behind the revolution in their vast majority – it is necessary that they involve themselves in Cuba’s popular power organs to infuse any reforms with a true grassroots element and prevent those who wish to see capitalism restored from gaining even the slightest influence.

It is certain that the beacon of anti-imperialist resistance that is Cuba will soon be going through interesting times. Of course, there has hardly been an uninteresting time in Cuba following the revolution. The difference here is that in the not too distant future we will soon see the withdrawal of the revolutionary generation from the political stage.The power of the revolutionary spirit will be judged by the actions of those who did not live through the revolution itself, who do not remember the Batista years and the Bay of Pigs invasion. The nature of the revolution itself will also be reflected by the extent to which people who are not emotionally attached to it by personal experience are willing to defend it and deepen it. In short, what will be shown in the following years is the extent to which the revolution was successful in becoming a long term process, an everyday part of people’s lives, a true revolution, rather than merely an institutional change. I am quite confident that this is the case.

With all due respect, it’s not Putin’s Russia. by korakious
December 15, 2007, 12:07 am
Filed under: AWL watch, Russia | Tags: ,

I am surprised, somewhat, that our vibrant blogosphere did not pick up the news of Putin finally breaking his silence over the question of his succession as Tsar President of Russia. You see, for years we’ve had analyst upon analyst coming up with elaborate, almost phantastical, scenarios about how Putin would outflank the constitution and remain in the Kremlin, working his way towards absolute power and reintroducing (lol) totalitarianism in Russia. The most popular of those was that Putin would amend the constitution to allow him to stand again; myself, I quite liked a more amusing variation of this, according to which Putin would finally go through with the decade old plan of a Russo-Belorussian union, and become president under a new constitution. Then, when this became increasingly unlikely as the end of the term approached, the established wisdom was that Putin would manage to transfer authority from the presidency to to the prime minister’s office and go for that. Another scenario was that Putin would put up a powerless yesman for the presidency and run again after four years, as he is constitutionally allowed to. Zubkov who was made PM earlier this year was a perfect candidate for this job. Almost 70 year old, a former security officer who knows how to follow orders and virtually unknown before he became head of the cabinet by the grace of Vladimir Vladimirovich.

And then…. Well then Putin (and his inner circle presumably) decided to nominate Dmitry Medvedev, deputy PM, head of the state monopoly giant Gazprom, supervisor of many a government programme, member of Putin’s St Petersburg circle and without any background in the security services. Medvedev is also only 42 and will thus not be out of the political landscape any time soon. Granted, he is a Putinist, whatever that means and his personal relationship with the Judo President is very close, but he does have his own experience in handling state affairs. There is no doubt that he will provide continuity with the Putin administration, in fact he has said so himself and his invitation to Putin to become PM under his presidency pretty much confirms it. The question is, what is so strange, or alarming about this? Why does RFE/RL see this as a confirmation of Putin’s conviction to stay in power forever? Why the talk of princes, heirs and regents? Of course, you will correctly think that this is because RFE/RL is a US imperialism mouthpiece, but the terms of coverage/debate are more or less similar in all western media outlets.

The answer lies in the rather perverted prism through which Russian politics is viewed by the west. “Putin’s Russia” has become a rather common description of a situation that is far more complex than the Putin-the-puppetmaster paradigm. It is of course impossible to ignore Putin’s personal weight when analysing Russian politics. Putin is perhaps the sole legitimating element of the regime. His popularity, at the end of his mandate, is touching 80% while in the “democratic” West, leaders at the end of their term are about as popular as emokids are amongst metalheads. At the same time, the percentage of Russians who appreciate the political “right to choose” barely reaches double digits while more than half think that elections are little more than a show. This is hardly surprising given the fact that the reintroduction of capitalism in Russia – of which the neo-Kautskyite AWL was and is very supportive – resulted in the greatest AIDS epidemic outside of Africa, more orphans than WWII, a fall in life expectancy only seen in war zones and some 3/4 of Russians falling under the poverty line.

It was addressing and to an extent remedying these problems that has gained Putin his immense popularity and has made him indispensable to the regime. It is for the same reason that the mouthpieces of Western imperialism speak of a rollback of democracy in “Putin’s Russia”. Is Russia authoritarian? Certainly. The presidency has far-reaching executive powers, its decrees are almost impossible to overturn, impeachment is nearly impossible and it can dissolve the Duma should it thrice reject the appointed PM. But has Russia become any more authoritarian under Putin? Not really. If anything, the centralisation of power Putin has undertaken has if anything made politics more institutional, concentrating under an elected office, rather than letting policy be decided through informal deal brokering at all levels of the state. There has been much ado about the fact that regional governors are no longer elected but appointed by the presidency, but given that we are talking about elections that often returned majority “against all candidates” votes and despite that, ended up propelling corrupt bureaucrats to power who would run the regions as their private fiefdoms, embezzling state funds and casually threatening to secede, this is hardly lamentable. If one wishes to find the institutional roots of authoritarianism in Russia, it is to Yeltsin that they should look. It is he who established the hegemonic power of the presidency and notwithstanding the silencing of charlatan opposition leaders like Gasparov, Putin has not resorted to fraud and selling off of state assets to win an election, nor has he ordered tanks to shell the legislature.

There is nothing really enigmatic or unprecedented about Putin’s rule. He is a quintessential Bonapartist leader (like his predecessor), an individual holding exceptional authority mediating a fragile historical situation, maintaining a fragile balance between the fragmented ruling class and the dormant but gradually awakening proletariat. The reason the intellectual vanguard of Western imperialism – liberals – can’t deal with it is because Putin’s (contrary to Yeltsin’s) successful handling of numerous and very dangerous contradictions of Russia, has allowed Russian capitalism to increasingly assert its imperialist interests. It is the emergence of a new competitor on the international arena that the West is so hyped up about, not the “reemergence” of authoritarianism in Russia.

It’s testament to the feeblemindedness of the bourgeoisie that they would even conceive of a situation where capitalism was successfully reintroduced in Russia without turning to bite its collective arse. On our part, lefties of all stripes have more to fear by the resonance of Putin’s policies with the Russian working class, rather than by any supposed scheme of his to become dictator for life.

The State of Official Marxism in China Today – David Kotz by korakious
December 13, 2007, 12:03 pm
Filed under: China, Communism, law, Marxism, Neoliberalism, Theory

The following is from the archives of Monthly Review. David Kotz, author of “Revolution From Above: The Demise of the Soviet System”, one of the best works on the fall of our Soviet motherland, gives a report on the various views aired at a conference on property rights held in China. The similarity of the terms of the debate to those in the late USSR is striking

During November 13–14, 2006, I participated in an “International Conference on Ownership & Property Rights: Theory & Practice,” in Beijing. This was not just an academic conference, it was related to a sharp debate taking place in China at that time over a proposed new law on property rights.1 Although none of the presentations at the conference made any direct reference to the proposed new law, everyone knew that it was the subtext of the conference debate.

The positions put forth by the participants in this conference provide an interesting window into the ideological struggle over the direction of social change in China. They illustrate the ways in which Marxist language and Marxist propositions, intermixed with ideas drawn from mainstream Western neoclassical economic theory, are used today in China to support the completion of China’s shift to private property and a market economy. Below I will reproduce some of the statements and positions voiced (and written) at this conference. But first some background information will help to place the statements in their historical context.

The supporters of the proposed property rights law were arguing that further economic progress in China required that private ownership of business enterprises and other assets must be made more secure. To achieve this end, a new law was needed specifying, and more importantly guaranteeing, the rights of owners of private property.

Critics resisted the proposed new law, charging that it represented a step toward abandoning the socialist system. They argued that guaranteeing private property rights, and elevating them to the same level as public property rights, would undermine the key role of state owned enterprises (SOEs) in a socialist system. To make matters worse, critics charged, the new law could potentially even safeguard the ownership claims of those who ended up in control of former SOEs that had been privatized through a corrupt insider deal.2 This would encourage further fraudulent privatizations of SOEs. Further, they argued, it would legitimize the exploitation of labor which occurs in private enterprises.

Such political debates are normally difficult to observe in China. This debate had been taking place in various locations in Chinese society, including academic institutions and various Communist Party and state institutions. The above conference provided a way for an outsider directly to observe, and even participate in, this debate.

The main sponsor of the conference was a little-known bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) called the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau. The conference was cosponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of Germany, which is attached to the Party of Democratic Socialism. The latter is descended from the Communist Party of the former German Democratic Republic.

While there were a few foreign participants, most were from China. The Chinese participants included professors from various Chinese universities, researchers from the Academy of Social Sciences, and some party and state officials. Among the latter there was one from the Development Research Center of the State Council, which provides policy advice to the prime minister, and one from the Central Party School. The foreign participants were quite diverse intellectually and politically, with most of them selected by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. I am known in China as a critic of neoliberalism in general, and privatization in particular, and I was invited to present a Marxist analysis of ownership and property rights in the United States that might be relevant to the property rights and privatization debate in China.

It has long been commonplace to read in the mainstream media that political debates in China are typically conducted, not just behind the scenes, but in a kind of Aesopian language. In this conference Marxism was the official language of discussion, at least for the Chinese participants. Despite the enormous transformation of China’s economic and social system since the beginning of what is called the “market reform and opening” in 1978, a kind of “official Marxism” remains the formal state ideology and the language for discussion of economic issues. Thus, most of the Chinese speakers at this conference, whichever side of the debate they were on, couched their views in Marxist language and often used traditional Marxist propositions to buttress their claims. However, Western neoclassical economic thought has become dominant in the leading economics departments at universities in China, and in many cases it was neoclassical ideas that underlay the comments of the speakers, whatever the language used to express them.

A final relevant piece of background information concerns the class structure of China today and its relation to the CCP. Originally membership in the CCP was open to workers, peasants, and intellectuals. The rapid development of private business starting in the early 1990s created a class of indigenous capitalists who, while wealthy and increasingly influential, were at least officially barred from membership in the ruling CCP. Then a few years ago, after a sharp political struggle, the CCP membership rules were changed to open membership to “entrepreneurs.” Reverberations of that political battle, as well as the one over property rights, could be heard in some of the conference presentations.

Readers can now appreciate the remarkable statements and positions put forward by various participants in this conference. In a few cases I provide a direct quotation, but most of the statements below paraphrase the main theses or points made by various Chinese speakers at the conference. Each statement below was made by at least one Chinese speaker, and some were repeated, with variations, by several speakers. In some cases I have added interpretive or clarifying comments in brackets. I begin with statements by participants who favor the current direction of social change in China—which represented the vast majority of speakers—and end with pronouncements by the few who either oppose China’s march to capitalism or are at least resisting the distortion of Marxism to justify that march.

Statements and Themes from the Conference

  • When an SOE is turned into a joint stock corporation with many shareholders, it represents socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it, since ownership goes from a single owner to a large number of owners [among others, this was stated by someone from the Central Party School].
  • If SOEs are turned into joint stock corporations and the employees are given some shares of the stock, then this would achieve “Marx’s objective of private ownership of property.”
  • In dealing with the SOEs, we must follow “international norms” and establish a “modern property rights system.” [As in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, the terms in quotes were euphemisms for capitalist norms and capitalist property rights.]
  • Enterprises can be efficient in our socialist market economy only if they are privately owned. [This statement, voiced by several people, comes directly from Western “neoclassical” economic theory.]
  • SOEs exploit their workers and are state capitalist institutions, and SOEs often have a very high rate of exploitation. [The point was that privatizing SOEs will not introduce exploitation or capitalist relations since both are already present in SOEs.]
  • The nature of ownership of the enterprises has no bearing on whether a country is capitalist or socialist. Enterprises should always be privately owned and operated for profit. What makes a country socialist is that the government taxes the surplus value and uses the proceeds to benefit the people through pensions and other social programs. [Along with justifying privatization, this implies that, as China’s economy becomes much like those of the United States and Western Europe, China is not abandoning socialism since, by this definition, all of the industrialized capitalist countries are actually socialist.]
  • The United States has companies with millions of shareholders, which is a far more socialized form of ownership than anything that exists in China.
  • “[After the Second World War] Capitalism not only gave up its fierce antagonism to labor, but even began combining with labor….Modern capitalism…is gradually creating a new type of capitalism that is more like socialism.”
  • The CCP followed the correct approach, in line with classical Marxism, during the period of New Democracy [i.e., the period directly following the 1949 liberation, when the party said it was completing the bourgeois democratic revolution but not yet trying to build socialism]. The change in policy after that period [when the party shifted its aim to building socialism] was an error, and instead the New Democracy policy should have been continued. [This was spookily similar to the widespread argument in Moscow in 1989–91 that the Soviet Communist Party should have stayed with the New Economic Policy of 1921–27, which called for a mixed economy with a significant role for private business and with market forces playing the main coordinating role.]
  • Besides current labor and past labor [the latter the Marxist term for the labor required to produce the means of production], there is a third type of labor, namely “risk labor.” Marxist theory should take account of this third type of labor, which is expended by those who take risks through entrepreneurship. [The obvious point was that “entrepreneurs,” i.e., capitalists, are a type of worker, and hence it is correct that they are allowed to join the Communist Party.]

As I listened to these themes—and as I raised questions about them in the question/discussion periods—I had a strong feeling of déjà vu. Many of them were the same themes I had heard (and had argued against) in Moscow in 1991, the last year of the Soviet Union, coming from Soviet academics and party and state officials.

Now for some comments by Chinese conference participants that swam against the private property and privatization tide:

  • A thorough study of the original German versions of Marx and Engels’s writings on communism shows that they clearly viewed communism as involving the abolition of private property. Those who have argued that this idea arose from a mistranslation of Marx and Engels’s works are mistaken. We should not distort Marxism to justify current policies. [Some “Marxists” in China have been arguing that Marx and Engels never actually wrote that communism would involve abolition of private property.]
  • Privatization is not the right solution to the problems of the SOEs. The right to use capital should belong to the workers and serve their interests.
  • “Informal privatization” [in which an SOE’s director illegally turns it into his private company] creates capitalist enterprises and should not be permitted.
  • While some SOEs may have low profit rates, profitability is not a good measure of an enterprise’s contribution to social and economic welfare.
  • The many Chinese economists who support the theories of Ronald Coase [a rightwing British property-rights theorist who is known for opposing any significant state regulation of private business] are mistaken. The Chinese followers of Coase claim that Marx had no theory of property rights and that Coase supplies the property rights theory that China needs. On the contrary, property rights are the legal manifestation of production relations, a relationship which Marx analyzes at some length. Contrary to Coase’s view, private property is not necessary for efficiency. Public ownership should be primary. [This older leftist academic economist cited at some length statements by the well-known U.S. left-of-center economist Joseph Stiglitz condemning the work of Coase. The reliance by a leftist Chinese economist on the pro-capitalist—yet somewhat heretical—U.S. economist Stiglitz to make a criticism of Coase reminded me of 1991 in Moscow, when the few leftist Soviet economists struggled to criticize free market theory by citing people such as John Kenneth Galbraith.]

1. The new “Property Rights Law of the People’s Republic of China” was passed by the National People’s Congress on March 16, 2007.
2. After such corrupt insider privatizations, the newly privatized enterprise is often then sold to a third party, who at least officially was not involved in the original privatization process. Opponents charged that one of the provisions of the proposed new law (article 106) would hold the final owner blameless and secure that person’s right of ownership, as long as the final owner could claim that she or he obtained the property with “benign intent.”