Tag Archive for Socialism

The left and immigration

Nicola Lawlor – http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/05-immigration.html

The left must embrace the debate about immigration from a working-class viewpoint and not run away from it, or shout over it, or ignorantly paint all workers who have fears and concerns as racists.

The recent British referendum has revealed a number of serious weaknesses of the left, and consequently a lot of working-class anger and frustration is expressed though right-wing groups.

The social-democratic left jumped to the defence of the European Union, a regional political, economic and social structure of monopoly capital, largely Franco-German, while the self-proclaimed “radical” left spent much time calling for “open borders” as a counter to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the leading Leave campaign groups. There were, of course, exceptions to this, in the RMT Union, NIPSA, the Communist Party of Britain, and the daily Morning Star.

The social-democratic position has obviously failed workers, and humanity, in that it allies itself with the very forces exploiting and abusing workers, creating increasingly violent and uncontrolled divisions and wrecking the environmental system that we require to sustain our lives. It seeks to defend the free movement of labour, which in reality is the freedom to exploit. It is the creation of an internal EU reserve army of labour, which drives down wages and divides working-class organisations.

But the “radical” left position is equally destructive to working-class unity and to building an actual working-class movement in opposition to capitalism.

“Open border” policies when monopoly capitalism remains the dominant social order will only benefit monopoly capital, economically in its greater access to cheaper labour within core economies but also politically, when inevitably workers will be further divided along racial lines and racism will be used to manipulate, control and disrupt organised fight-back.

It will be different when monopoly capitalism is being challenged seriously by socialist states, with military back-up, and by socialist international structures. But that is not, sadly, the present balance of class forces. The socialist policies of transformation and struggle towards socialism have to be very different from the socialist policies of a socialist hegemonic, or near-hegemonic, order.

Samir Amin, quite rightly, sees the movement we must build as being both anti-imperialist and anti-liberal.

Our task is to give new life to workers’ internationalism. Workers and working people ought to unite at all levels, both within their countries and across borders, and stop competing with each other. This can only happen on an anti-imperialist basis, working with an anti-liberal strategy.

The cornerstone of liberalism as an ideology, and also of monopoly capitalism as practised through a managed technocratic system within the EU, and dominant globally, is the free movement of capital, goods, services, and labour. An anti-imperialist and anti-liberal strategy needs to challenge all four of these points, at both the national and the international level, by progressive movements but also progressive states, where the workers’ movement has gained hegemony within a state or even become the ruling class within a state.

While Marx favoured free trade and the growth of capitalism, that was in the context of breaking down old feudal structures and ideology, when capitalism was still in its progressive phase. It has now, of course, moved well beyond that, and so our policies must too.

Again, Samir Amin sees this strategy based within national boundaries but with an obvious international dialectic.

     A precondition is to restore priority to national policies over international ones. Nations need self-determination—not just for cultural reasons, nor because they are black or white, Christian or Muslim, but because of their political history. A high degree of national independence is necessary to reduce inequalities between nations in the world today. That’s how we must define working-class unity.

     This debate must come from the grass roots. I see no contradiction between national and international levels, but I think that no progress will ever be made on the international level as long as there is no progress on the national level. Things always start to happen through a bottom-up process, and essentially this means on the national level.

While it is fair to say that the media and establishment politicians wanted the Brexit debate centred around immigration and not democracy, public services, the environment, war, workers’ rights, or real economic sovereignty, the left still failed to engage in that immigration debate from a solidly anti-imperialist and anti-liberal standpoint.

Workers have fears, concerns, and worries. Some are perceptions, some are based on ignorance, some are manufactured; but some are legitimate, and the roots of these views are real. This talk of Leave voters from some on the left as being racists or misled is itself deeply ignorant as well as being politically arrogant and obnoxious enough to turn people off the left altogether, which indeed it does.

This argument was brilliantly espoused in a post-Brexit article headed “The demonisation of the working class shames our nation” by Paul Embery, regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Britain, published in Huffington Post, where he wrote:

A group of people, the most exploited within our society, are under attack . . . Few among the political class really understand them. These people live in modest homes in the grittier parts of the country. They work in factories, call centres and on building sites . . . They like football and watch Coronation Street . . .

     They are the people who tipped the balance to lead us through the EU’s exit door. They are the new scapegoats. They are the working class . . .

     The sneering contempt displayed towards these and all 17 million who voted Leave by the resentful new alliance of metropolitan liberals, know-all academics, no-mark “celebrities” and know-nothing-yet students should trouble us all . . .

     The opprobrium heaped on working-class voters post referendum demonstrates just how little their critics know of their lives . . . They considered their own lives, the perpetual strains they were under, the financial hardships, the impact of near decade-long austerity, the lack of affordable housing, the ravages of deindustrialisation, the challenges of mass and unrestricted immigration in their communities and its resultant pressure on wages and local services, and they concluded that the elite in neither Brussels nor Westminster gave a fig for their predicament . . .

     So the backbone of the nation, the people upon whose labour we rely, the section of society which creates the wealth, stands condemned, vilified by the pro-EU liberal intelligentsia, voiceless and without a political party it can truly recognise as its own.

A recent survey showed that only 35 per cent voted leave on the basis of immigration issues or concerns. But for this 35 per cent, do we write them off, or do we engage in a real conversation and with a solidly based position on immigration and borders that can help to educate but also be a fundamental principle of internationalism and national sovereignty?

Firstly, we should listen. Brexit has shown that the social-democratic left and many trade unions are largely out of touch with and irrelevant to most of the working class. They are not the political influencers or leaders of our class in Britain, and the same can be said for Ireland.

Capitalism is a barbaric and inhumane system that remains hegemonic because it is based on a political and media structure that creates division, sows hatred and fear, and does not always present the working class or the left with simple questions, or questions as we would like them presented. While Rosa Luxemburg’s proposition, “socialism or barbarism?” is ultimately correct, that is not the immediate political question.

So we must face questions like Brexit in a form and a way presented to us by the establishment. We have to tackle questions such as immigration in the context of a barbaric system and how it creates these contradictions. As Julian Jones wrote in the Morning Star:

The grim economic reality behind this free movement is in essence a free exploitation of a primarily young European work force with no job security and no prospects . . . Quite simply, those at the bottom of the pile are more likely to have witnessed the basic principle that if a boss can use a cheaper foreign work force, they will do so.

The economic structure of monopoly capitalism today includes an openness of borders within politically defined areas for the purpose of the exploitation of working people, cultivation of a bigger, more mobile reserve army of labour and driving a race to the bottom as well as a closed approach to borders for defined areas “outside,” where immigration policy can pick and choose as a form of brain drain from peripheral regions within the global economic order.

Indeed Marx noted that the English bourgeoisie “exploited the Irish poverty to keep down the working class in England by forced immigration of poor Irishmen . . . Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class . . .”

The policies we must put forward on immigration during the struggle for socialism are different from the absolute policies that would be pursued under socialism. It is the right of all sovereign states, and an essential part of the transition to socialism, to control their borders as regards capital, labour, goods, and services.

This is a vital distinction. If the political left doesn’t realise it soon it will move further and further away from the working class and hand influence and the leadership of our class to the right, with all the dangers this presents.

Interview with Prof Ben Fine, SOAS

www.freewords.net interview with Professor of Economics Ben Fine of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

PDF version of interview Interview with Ben Fine Prof Economics SOAS

Thank you Ben for taking the time to do this interview.

  1. Can you briefly outline for us what you think the causes of the great 2008 crash and subsequent years of crisis were?

Over the past thirty years, the volume of global financial assets to GDP has risen three times. That means that each unit of output has involved three times the level of financing than previously, something that would have been deplored had it been anything else underpinning provision, such as energy to produce electricity, steel to produce cars, and so on. It is hardly surprising that such a system should blow at some point, ultimately globally, with ever larger and uncontainable crises emerging at earlier points along the way.

But something else, and deeper, is involved than the increasing ratio of finance to production, and the increasing proliferation of the types of assets. What we have seen is the increasing role of finance in what might be termed economic and social restructuring and accumulation of capital. Thus, within the capitalist economy itself, more and more finance has been involved, together with financial motives and operations in what firms do. In the USA, for example, non-financial firms make as much money out of their financial dealings as they do out of their real operations. Such, what is termed financialisation, has meant, for example, increasing pursuit of short-term profitability at the expense of long-term investments for increasing productivity and wages. Together with corresponding worsening to extremes of income inequality also over the last three decades, and the priority in policymaking to restore not only the profitability of finance but of its continuing operations, it is hardly surprising that, following the global financial crisis, there should be no signs of rapid recovery.

These processes of financialisation, and their effects, are uneven within and across countries and within and across sectors of the economy. They have also, as indicated, been extended to social restructuring, by which is meant the ways and means by which social provisioning takes place, economic and social infrastructure in general and health, education, welfare, etc, in particular. Not least through privatisation directly, and through all sorts of other mechanisms indirectly such as user charges, public private partnership and contracting out of government services, financialisation has increasingly become embroiled in social reproduction, something that is vital for the rhythm and pace of accumulation.

All in all, the result has been a slower pace of growth across the capitalist world, following the collapse of the post-war boom in the 1970s, with globalised, financialised neoliberalism ultimately suffering a global crisis from which it can barely recover growth in prosperity despite the enormous interventions on behalf of finance as both the levels and efficacy of accumulation and the conditions under which it occurs have been increasingly dictated to by financial motives and markets.

  1. You defend the more traditional Marxist declining rate of profit theory which has come under some scrutiny by Marxian economists in recent time. Can you explain the theory first and then why you see it as still a strong tendency in the system?

Let me answer this question indirectly. Broadly, debate over Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (and, for me at least, its counteracting tendencies, CTs) have, again for me, been based upon two false framings. The first is does the rate of profit empirically fall or not for some theoretical reason or other. The second is that given the rate of profit has fallen, for whatever reason, does this give rise to a crisis. Answers to the first question have resulted in huge debates across method, conceptualisation and theory, especially concerning the validity of Marx’s value theory and its application. Much empirical work has also been devoted to the issue of whether the rate of profit has fallen or not over particular periods for particular countries, with the presumption that crises can be explained by falling profitability (although capitalists themselves at the time did not have the benefit  of these retrospective calculations). For me, Marx’s law and CTs do not revolve around either of these framings, at least directly. Rather he is concerned with underlying forces that necessarily accompany accumulation and what I have termed restructuring of capital in answering the previous question. The law concerns increases in productivity that arise out of the accumulation of capital; the CTs concern the realisation of these developments in or through exchange. For Marx, this interaction is always contradictory rather than a simple sum in terms of profit going up or down. The issue is less this than whether the market (and non-market) mechanisms for accumulating and restructuring capital can be sustained without an economic and/or social crisis.

Now, if parodying, some argue that Marx’s law resulted in the end of the post-war boom and that the resulting crisis has yet to be resolved so that the current crisis is not a financial crisis at all but an unresolved crisis of profitability. Others argue that, especially in the USA with stagnant wages, profitability was fully restored and so the current crisis is purely financial (arising out of undue speculation and/or insufficient demand because of low wage income). These are wrong or limited, respectively, as the current crisis is one of inability to sustain and renew accumulation and restructuring of capital through what has become the major mechanism for doing so, financialisation.

  1. How do you see the recent years of austerity across Europe in terms of class? Why was it imposed and who did it benefit?

Everyone knows the bankers were to blame but they have got off scot free more or less – socialism for the bankers, capitalism for the rest of us. The imposition of austerity is indicative of the priority to restoring finance in the wake of its crisis so that the working class has been particularly hard hit even though arguments blaming them concerning unduly high economic and social wages do not hold true (although they are offered in case of the EU periphery in general and Greece in particular).

  1. I have to ask you now also about the upcoming referendum on Brexit. How would like it go? and what way do you think it will go?

The single most important thing about Brexit is political. For whatever reasons, the most horrendous coalition of forces is being put together to support Brexit and it would be disastrous if they were to win in terms of strengthening their political position, that is of the right more generally. More substantively, if a little over-simple, Brexit is about whether we want to be ruled directly by a European (predominantly German) capitalist class (think what has been done to Greece, although Britain has not offered any counterweight) or by a British one (think finance). It is hardly a choice that offers anything to working people, with the longer-term prospect being whether British finance is best served (by being eroded) in or outside the EU (as with membership of the Euro itself).

  1. Without doubt there has been a renewed interest in Marx and Marxist analysis in recent years do you see this translating into a raised level of class consciousness in Britain and, if so, will this translate into a rebalancing of forces in the country over the coming years in favour of working people?

I suspect the main direction of causation is in the opposite direction with interest in Marxism responding to developments rather than vice-versa. So the prominence and impact of Marxism will depend upon the growing strength and organisation of working people for which the unexpected and fortuitous rise of Corbyn is a welcome if fragile first step until such strength and organisation emerges and is consolidated.

CPI encourages active engagement in the right2change initiative

By Eugene McCarten

Taken from this months Socialist Voice at http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/02-right2change.html

The trade unions that, together with the communities resisting the imposing of water charges, have been the mainstay of the Right2Water campaign have taken a bold initiative in launching the Right2Change consultative process.
They are sponsoring what will be a whole series of public forums around the 26 Counties. The first series of meetings took place in late September, with more being planned for October and November.
These forums will provide an opportunity for the trade unions and the communities to come together, to share experience and learn from each other. The unions have developed a policy platform on which they wish to engage the communities in the period coming up to the general election. They have developed policy positions on a number of important areas, including the following:
• Right2Water
• Right2Democratic Reform
• Right2Jobs and Decent Work
• Right2Health
• Right2Housing
• Right2Education
• Right2Debt Justice
• Right2Equality
• Right2National Resources
• Right2Sustainable Environment
In their statement they outline a series of political principles that should underpin a future progressive government. These were first presented in draft form to a May Day conference organised by the Right2Water unions, which was followed by a consultation process that culminated in a conference in June that amended and adopted those principles. The document emerging from that process addresses a range of areas, including housing, health, education, and water.
The Right2Change campaign is seeking to win public and political support for what its spokesperson, Brendan Ogle, termed “a fundamental change in the way we view our economy and our society.
“These policy principles are merely a starting point,” he said. “That is why, in the coming weeks, we will be organising meetings throughout the country to continue the process of consultation started on May Day.”
The unions have published a fiscal framework that could allow a progressive government to increase spending by more than €9 billion over the next four years, allowing a future government to tackle some of the biggest crises in the state.
Right2Water and Right2Change are encouraging everybody to come along to these meetings as we all endeavour to make Ireland a better, fairer country. Everyone concerned about the future of our country should actively engage with these forums.
The CPI will be attending, presenting its ideas and demands in relation to the debt, membership of the EU, and the euro, as well as arguing for a much more radical transformative strategy, one that is aimed at weakening and breaking the power of capital and strengthening the power and capacity of the working class to defend and advance its own economic and political goals.
This is a battle for a new way forward, to lay before the people the central challenges they face and the fact that there is no simple or easy way forward, that they should not allow their anger and their independent demands to be drawn into mere electoralism, buried in parliamentary procedures and rules.

CPI submission to R2W


The full CPI submission to right2water CPI r2w submission

We submit these ideas as a contribution to what we believe is a necessary debate, onethat needs to take place not only within the trade union movement but also within communities throughout our country. We believe that the time has passed for patching up a system that has only offered, and can only offer, poverty, inequality, precarious employment, low wages, and few real rights for workers.

The capitalist economic system prevents the development of a truly just and democratic society—a society in which men and women are equal, a society built on respect for both age and youth, in which our culture and language are respected and encouraged, in which the public good is given priority over markets and profits, in which we have control and influence over all aspects of our lives: in our places of work, in our communities, within our families—an economic system serving the working people.

We believe that socialism—the social ownership of the means of reproducing the material needs of life, to be held and used in common by and for the people—is the only way that a decent society can be built.


A democratic programme for the 21st century

Starry Plough

The Communist Party of Ireland has published A Democratic Programme For the 21st Century.

The capitalist economic system that we live under is prone to cycles of boom and bust and is based on the exploitation of working people. It is a society in which the wealth created by working people is owned and controlled by a small minority. It is incapable of bringing about a civilised society: it is built on and sustained by inequality. Capitalism is also responsible for the deepening global environmental catastrophe. Women and men, local and migrant workers, employed and unemployed, are pitched against each other to ensure greater profits for that small minority. The very idea of mutual support and solidarity between people is a complete anathema to this system.

Our rulers, both domestic and external, tell us that sovereignty and independence are no longer relevant in the modern world, subsumed in the larger “European bloc” that is the EU. We disagree. This “European bloc” was constructed to serve the interests of international finance and transnational corporations. These forces and their institutions of control have no interest in serving the people.

The working people of Ireland have to take control if we are to end poverty, unemployment, emigration, and the destruction of urban and rural communities, discrimination based on gender, religion, race, or sexuality. Every generation since the foundation of this state has experienced mass unemployment and mass emigration. Our towns and villages are falling silent with the departing footsteps of our youth. Our communities are riven by drugs, poverty, and homelessness.

Working people, both urban and rural, have always had to wait in line and to fight for anything that we have gained. What we have gained is now being taken away. Each generation has had to fight to defend what their parents and grandparents struggled for. Working people, women and men, young and old, need to advance beyond this constant battle over the same issues: we need to transcend these constant, repetitive struggles to have our views heard, our needs and aspirations met.

To bring about lasting change we need to move beyond the narrow concept of democracy allowed by the establishment. Working people have little influence over the decisions of the Irish state, let alone the European institutions. Again and again the political manifestos we vote for are torn up the day after the election. Replace a disastrous government with new faces and the policies remain the same. It is “the markets,” we are told, that determine policy.’

Full document can be read here: A Democratic Programme


Karl Marx Was Right

Global Research, June 01, 2015

Karl Marx exposed the peculiar dynamics of capitalism, or what he called “the bourgeois mode of production.” He foresaw that capitalism had built within it the seeds of its own destruction. He knew that reigning ideologies—think neoliberalism—were created to serve the interests of the elites and in particular the economic elites, since “the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production” and “the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships … the relationships which make one class the ruling one.” He saw that there would come a day when capitalism would exhaust its potential and collapse. He did not know when that day would come. Marx, as Meghnad Desai wrote, was “an astronomer of history, not an astrologer.” Marx was keenly aware of capitalism’s ability to innovate and adapt. But he also knew that capitalist expansion was not eternally sustainable. And as we witness the denouement of capitalism and the disintegration of globalism, Karl Marx is vindicated as capitalism’s most prescient and important critic.

In a preface to “The Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” Marx wrote:

No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself.

Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, we always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation.

Socialism, in other words, would not be possible until capitalism had exhausted its potential for further development. That the end is coming is hard now to dispute, although one would be foolish to predict when. We are called to study Marx to be ready.

The final stages of capitalism, Marx wrote, would be marked by developments that are intimately familiar to most of us. Unable to expand and generate profits at past levels, the capitalist system would begin to consume the structures that sustained it. It would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the needs of ordinary citizens. It would, as it has, increasingly relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers. Industries would mechanize their workplaces. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist system—that would be disguised by the imposition of massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant. Politics would in the late stages of capitalism become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates and money of global capitalism.

But as Marx warned, there is a limit to an economy built on scaffolding of debt expansion. There comes a moment, Marx knew, when there would be no new markets available and no new pools of people who could take on more debt. This is what happened with the subprime mortgage crisis. Once the banks cannot conjure up new subprime borrowers, the scheme falls apart and the system crashes.

Capitalist oligarchs, meanwhile, hoard huge sums of wealth—$18 trillion stashed in overseas tax havens—exacted as tribute from those they dominate, indebt and impoverish. Capitalism would, in the end, Marx said, turn on the so-called free market, along with the values and traditions it claims to defend. It would in its final stages pillage the systems and structures that made capitalism possible. It would resort, as it caused widespread suffering, to harsher forms of repression. It would attempt in a frantic last stand to maintain its profits by looting and pillaging state institutions, contradicting its stated nature.

Marx warned that in the later stages of capitalism huge corporations would exercise a monopoly on global markets. “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe,” he wrote. “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” These corporations, whether in the banking sector, the agricultural and food industries, the arms industries or the communications industries, would use their power, usually by seizing the mechanisms of state, to prevent anyone from challenging their monopoly. They would fix prices to maximize profit. They would, as they [have been doing], push through trade deals such as the TPP and CAFTA to further weaken the nation-state’s ability to impede exploitation by imposing environmental regulations or monitoring working conditions. And in the end these corporate monopolies would obliterate free market competition.

May 22 editorial in The New York Times gives us a window into what Marx said would characterize the late stages of capitalism:

As of this week, Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are felons, having pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges of conspiring to rig the value of the world’s currencies. According to the Justice Department, the lengthy and lucrative conspiracy enabled the banks to pad their profits without regard to fairness, the law or the public good.

The Times goes on:

The banks will pay fines totaling about $9 billion, assessed by the Justice Department as well as state, federal and foreign regulators. That seems like a sweet deal for a scam that lasted for at least five years, from the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2013, during which the banks’ revenue from foreign exchange was some $85 billion.

The final stages of what we call capitalism, as Marx grasped, is not capitalism at all. Corporations gobble down government expenditures, in essence taxpayer money, like pigs at a trough. The arms industry with its official $612 billion defense authorization bill—which ignores numerous other military expenditures tucked away in other budgets, raising our real expenditure on national security expenses to over $1 trillion a year—has gotten the government this year to commit to spending $348 billion over the next decade to modernize our nuclear weapons and build 12 new Ohio-class nuclear submarines, estimated at $8 billion each. Exactly how these two massive arms programs are supposed to address what we are told is the greatest threat of our time—the war on terror—is a mystery. After all, as far as I know, ISIS does not own a rowboat. We spend some $100 billion a year on intelligence—read surveillance—and 70 percent of that money goes to private contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, [which] gets 99 percent of its revenues from the U.S. government. And on top of this we are the largest exporters of arms in the world.

The fossil fuel industry swallows up $5.3 trillion a year worldwide in hidden costs to keep burning fossil fuels, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This money, the IMF noted, is in addition to the $492 billion in direct subsidies offered by governments around the world through write-offs and write-downs and land-use loopholes. In a sane world these subsidies would be invested to free us from the deadly effects of carbon emissions caused by fossil fuels, but we do not live in a sane world.

Bloomberg News in the 2013 article “Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year?” reported that economists had determined that government subsidies lower the big banks’ borrowing costs by about 0.8 percent.

“Multiplied by the total liabilities of the 10 largest U.S. banks by assets,” the report said, “it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of $83 billion a year.”

“The top five banks—JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.—account,” the report went on, “for $64 billion of the total subsidy, an amount roughly equal to their typical annual profits. In other words, the banks occupying the commanding heights of the U.S. financial industry—with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy—would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfare. In large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.”

Government expenditure accounts for 41 percent of GDP. Corporate capitalists intend to seize this money, hence the privatization of whole parts of the military, the push to privatize Social Security, the contracting of corporations to collect 70 percent of intelligence for our 16 intelligence agencies, as well as the privatization of prisons, schools and our disastrous for-profit health care service. None of these seizures of basic services make them more efficient or reduce costs. That is not the point. It is about feeding off the carcass of the state. And it ensures the disintegration of the structures that sustain capitalism itself. All this Marx got.

Marx illuminated these contradictions within capitalism. He understood that the idea of capitalism—free trade, free markets, individualism, innovation, self-development—works only in the utopian mind of a true believer such as Alan Greenspan, never in reality. The hoarding of wealth by a tiny capitalist elite, Marx foresaw, along with the exploitation of the workers, meant that the masses could no longer buy the products that propelled capitalism forward. Wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite—the world’s richest 1 percent will own more than half of the world’s wealth by next year.

The assault on the working class has been going on now for several decades. Salaries have remained stagnant or declined since the 1970s. Manufacturing has been shipped overseas, where workers in countries such as China or Bangladesh are paid as little as 22 cents an hour. The working poor, forced to compete with the labor of those who are little better than serfs in the global marketplace, proliferate across the American landscape, struggling to live at a subsistence level. Industries such as construction, which once provided well-paying unionized jobs, are the domain of nonunionized, often undocumented workers. Corporations import foreign engineers and software specialists that do professional work at one-third of the normal salary on H-1B, L-1 and other work visas. All these workers are bereft of the rights of citizens.

The capitalists respond to the collapse of their domestic economies, which they engineered, by becoming global loan sharks and speculators. They lend money at exorbitant interest rates to the working class and the poor, even if they know the money could never be repaid, and then sell these bundled debts, credit default swaps, bonds and stocks to pension funds, cities, investment firms and institutions. This late form of capitalism is built on what Marx called “fictitious capital.” And it leads, as Marx knew, to the vaporization of money.

Once subprime borrowers began to default, as these big banks and investment firms knew was inevitable, the global crash of 2008 took place. The government bailed out the banks, largely by printing money, but left the poor and the working class—not to mention students recently out of college—with crippling personal debt. Austerity became policy. The victims of financial fraud would be made to pay for that fraud. And what saved us from a full-blown depression was, in a tactic Marx would have found ironic, massive state intervention in the economy, including the nationalization of huge corporations such as AIG and General Motors.

What we saw in 2008 was the enactment of a welfare state for the rich, a kind of state socialism for the financial elites that Marx predicted. But with this comes an increased and volatile cycle of boom and bust, bringing the system closer to disintegration and collapse. We have undergone two major stock market crashes and the implosion of real estate prices in just the first decade of the 21st century.

The corporations that own the media have worked overtime to sell to a bewildered public the fiction that we are enjoying a recovery. Employment figures, through a variety of gimmicks, including erasing those who are unemployed for over a year from unemployment rolls, are a lie, as is nearly every other financial indicator pumped out for public consumption. We live, rather, in the twilight stages of global capitalism, which may be surprisingly more resilient than we expect, but which is ultimately terminal. Marx knew that once the market mechanism became the sole determining factor for the fate of the nation-state, as well as the natural world, both would be demolished. No one knows when this will happen. But that it will happen, perhaps within our lifetime, seems certain.

“The old is dying, the new struggles to be born, and in the interregnum there are many morbid symptoms,” Antonio Gramsci wrote.

What comes next is up to us.

Economic misery and bloody chaos

By Tommy McKearney

The soap opera that surrounded SYRIZA’s limp attempt to negotiate with the vicious, agenda-driven European Union, led by the financial sector, has understandably captured huge attention during the recent past. As with all the best action within that genre, viewers were kept in mock suspense while the inevitable dénouement was played out.
Pundits spoke solemnly about the risk of Greece leaving the EU, of threats to financial stability, or a break-up of the euro zone. Meanwhile the new government in Athens stuck out its chest and talked of taking on the mighty German finance ministry and the other members of the Troika. That the drama ended for SYRIZA with a timid whimper rather than anything so unsettling as a bang was, unfortunately, all too predictable.
The new Greek prime minister, Aléxis Tsípras, may be a handsome and articulate addition on the European political stage but he is no Fidel Castro. His finance minister, Varoufákis, strikes a dashing pose as he tours the Continent’s capitals, but, photograph him as you may, he hasn’t the steel of a Che.
Therein lies the essence of the Greek people’s disappointment. Not only did they need a determined and purposeful socialist government and instead got social democrats, but a hard-pressed population was allowed to believe that a different and better outcome was possible.
Not that any genuine socialist or working-class activist can be anything other than dismayed by what has happened. Many on the left throughout Europe greeted SYRIZA’s election victory with genuine enthusiasm. The Greek people had rejected a plundering, neo-liberal programme imposed on them by international financiers, and it appeared, from the newly elected government’s declarations, that someone, somewhere was finally prepared to reject the demands of rentier capitalism. That the initial rhetoric proved hollow is a set-back for all on the left, as early optimism (and not only in Greece) may well be replaced by disenchantment.
How often—some may justifiably ask—can we raise expectations before people stop believing in the possibility of meaningful change?
It would be a mistake, nevertheless, to ascribe the failure of SYRIZA to personal inadequacies, betrayal, or lack of moral fibre. The Greek social democrats’ misfortune was to be bit players in a much greater game, and one in which their leadership mistakenly believed they could effect change while staying within the parameters of the present system. The response to this regrettable situation should not be the sterile cry of “We told you so” but to endeavour to promote a deeper understanding of what went wrong, and why.
Following the crisis in capitalism created by the economic crash of 2008, Europe’s ruling class and its vehicle of delivery, the European Union, is in no mood to endure any challenge to its authority or to tolerate developments that might undermine its power. Like a wounded beast, the ruling class is even more aggressive and dangerous than it was when feeling stronger.
The nature of its response to this present crisis is manifesting itself in two different but related theatres. One is being played out with the Greek government and people; the other is the ever more lethal and dangerous conflict raging in Donets and the wider Don Basin. While acting tough in the negotiations between Athens and the Troika, the EU and its allies are also pursuing their agenda in eastern Europe.
Following a well-practised routine, the western European media prepared the ground as they promoted a narrative asserting that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, were intent on an aggressive policy of invasion and expansion. Old, crude anti-Soviet rhetoric was regurgitated. In February the second in command of NATO’s forces in Europe, General Adrian Bradshaw, told the Royal United Services Institute (the elite’s strategic think-tank in London) that NATO forces must prepare for a large-scale conventional assault by Russia on an eastern European member-state.¹ Shortly thereafter the British prime minister, David Cameron, announced that he is to send military personnel to Kiev to train the regime’s troops, and give additional funding to the BBC to “counteract Russian propaganda.”²
Ignored in the telling of this scaremongering and sabre-rattling was the fact that the EU and the United States had encouraged a coup against an elected government in Kiev, and supported its replacement with a regime that made no secret of its hostility to Moscow and to Russian-speaking Ukrainians. No mention either of NATO’s encroachment into an area of immense strategic sensitivity to a country that lost 26 million citizens within living memory. Donets is, after all, only a two-hour journey by car from the Russian city of Volgograd (or Stalingrad, as it was known when assaulted by Nazi Germany in 1942).
Deliberately concealed, moreover, is an underlying calculation being made by upper echelons of the dominant capitalist power-brokers in the United States and western Europe. Relentlessly pursuing, over the past few decades, a short-term neo-liberal policy of profit maximisation at all costs, they have caused their own manufacturing industries to re-establish themselves outside their home countries, often to the “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Inevitably this has led to a decline in their own productive capacity, forcing them to become ever more dependent on finance and services.
In the long run this creates a dilemma for the western powers, because economic history and experience clearly demonstrate that finance follows production, rather than the reverse. Inevitably this must mean a decline in their global hegemony—unless, that is, they can offset this trend by a related policy of (a) using debt to subdue some and (b) undermining any potential zone of economic competition among others.
Yet the ruling order in the West persists with this twin-track policy, with the obvious intention that debt burdens will crush, contain and confound the social-democratically inclined states of Europe while creating chaos elsewhere, preventing the emergence of a rival economic powerhouse.³ The cynical unifying calculation in this strategy is that, with the absence of an alternative economic bloc, the indebted have fewer options and the BRICs have fewer outlets. Those who believe they won the “Cold War” by threatening mutual self-destruction now seem to feel they can retain influence by a stratagem of “We’ll rule or we’ll wreck.”
And the evidence to substantiate this assertion? The proof lies in the absence of any other possible or plausible explanation for the behaviour of those world leaders who have imposed economic misery on vast sections of the European and American working class, while bringing bloody chaos to the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine. No rational market economist has demonstrated that austerity can achieve anything other than deflation and loss of production. No sane individual has ever argued that western intervention in North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria or Russia can lead to anything other than world-engulfing catastrophe.
The adage that socialism is the only alternative to barbarism, or worse, has never held more validity than now.

1. Sam Jones, “NATO warned to prepare for move on territory,” Financial Times, 21 February 2015.
2. Chris Green, “British troops to ‘train soldiers in Ukraine’,” Independent (London), 24 February 2015.
3. For those who may argue that China disproves this contention it would be worth their while reading Martin Wolf’s article “How addiction to debt came even to China,” Financial Times (24 February 2015).

Interview with Thomas Kenny co-author of Socialism of ‘Betrayed Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991′

Socialism Betrayed

Given the instability and anarchy we have seen and are still seeing in the market capitalist system what do you see as the merits of a planned economic system? 


Only when the class character of the state has changed after a socialist revolution and when a working-class, revolutionary party sets the basic direction of policy, can there be a comprehensively planned system.

Capitalism sometimes claims to “plan.” But state-monopoly capitalism, capitalism’s current form, must leave undisturbed the privileges of private monopoly. Therefore it cannot plan comprehensively except to some extent in a wartime emergency when private capital is willing to cede some powers to the capitalist state.

The 20th century is a fair basis for comparison. The system of socialism based on working class rule, collective or state ownership of property and state planning proved a remarkable success in comparison with capitalism.

The younger generation needs to hear this truth. The socialist system proved itself capable of providing sustained, rapid economic growth over six decades, notable technical and scientific innovations, unprecedented economic and social benefits to all its citizens, all the while defending itself from invasion and other forms of military pressure, combatting subversion, sabotage, and threats, and offering economic aid, technical assistance, and military protection to other nations struggling for independence and socialism.

Consider socialism in relation to the evils of the US capitalist economy, the economy I know the best. For more than a century the US economy has been  dominated by giant monopolies. Monopolization grows ever more extreme.  The dominant world power since 1945, US imperialism is now in a state of permanent, global war. The US military is in action in scores of countries. Overseas US military bases number about 1000 by some reckonings. A $600 billion yearly military budget pays for this.

Capitalism’s boom-bust economic cycle has become more violent in recent decades. The recovery from the 2008 crash is still weak and tentative in the US. The unrestricted export of capital and jobs has de-industrialized many industrial areas, resulting in good union jobs in manufacturing being replaced by low-wage service jobs often held by undocumented immigrants, alongside the fabulous wealth of a tenth of one percent. There is homelessness for millions.

Ugly political features stem from these economic realities: a tendency to restrict (bourgeois) democracy, e.g., the US Supreme Court decision to end all restriction on corporate donations to election campaigns; the Republican Party campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act. There is the growing paralysis of Congress, an institution that seemingly can muster the will only to authorize tax cuts for corporations, fund new wars, and strive to make the tax system more regressive.

Racism is an old US evil. It creates monopoly superprofits from high unemployment rates and low wages for most Black workers. Today, it is still expressed in police violence in Black urban areas, and mass incarceration of young Black men.

The Leninist law of uneven development operates on so many levels. Vast regions of the US South and US West, largely non-union, are home to  the most backward forms of  political belief and religiosity. The political representatives from these regions are now dominant in Congress.  We have a culture sick with gun insanity and resultant frequent mass shootings of innocents. The gun lobby always blocks reform. There is brutal treatment of undocumented immigrants. The present Administration deports them on a greater scale than the  Bush Administration did.  The vaunted health care “reform” of 2010 was written by the private insurers. We have a corporate media degraded to mindless “info-tainment. “ It excludes dissenting voices.

We have a “justice” system that operates along blatant class lines. Torture in Guantanamo and the rendition “black sites”? Nobody goes to prison except a few corporals. An aggression against Iraq based on a Big Lie by top US officials? Nobody goes to prison. A trillion-dollar bailout for banks whose illegal, fraudulent practices were the proximate cause of the crash of 2008? Nobody goes to prison. Secret NSA spying on the world? Nobody goes to prison. Pollution of the environment to the point of triggering climate change? Nobody goes to prison

A socialist economy’s superiority should be discussed concretely. Look at the main socialist country over most of the 20th century, the USSR. Bahman Azad’s fine book Heroic Struggle, Bitter Defeat summarizes its accomplishments.

In the first two five-year plans, industrial production grew at an average annual rate of 11 percent. From1928 to 1940, the industrial sector grew from 28 percent to 45 percent of the economy. Between 1928 and 1937, heavy manufacturing output’s share of total manufacturing output grew from 31 percent to 63 percent.

The illiteracy rate dropped from 56 percent to 20 percent. The number of graduates from high school, specialized schools and universities jumped. Moreover, in this period, the state began providing free education, free health services, and social insurance, and after 1936 the state gave subsidies to single mothers and to mothers with many children. These accomplishments, Azad notes, were “impressive and historically unprecedented.”

Between 1941 and 1953, the Soviet Union defeated fascist Germany and rebuilt after the devastation of the war. By 1948 overall industrial output exceeded that of 1940, and by 1952 it exceeded 1940 by two and a half times. The Soviet Union developed and forced the imperialist West into a Cold War stalemate.

But at what cost, both human and environment, does that kind of growth come?


Admittedly, problems existed, notably acute agricultural shortages, and even the achievements, made in conditions of hostile encirclement, exacted a certain cost in terms of lives, living standards, socialist democracy, and collective leadership, but the achievements had occurred nonetheless.

Social reformists love to sneer at the phrase “real, existing socialism,” a term that Soviet writers often used.  Reformism usually puts the phrase in quotation marks, holding it up to scorn.  In so doing they reveal their own political limitations. They prefer to discuss socialism as an imagined ideal, not what really developed in the harsh reality of 20th century class struggle and all its contradictions.

Twentieth-century socialism came into being amidst the most trying historical circumstances. What were those circumstances?  Imperialist war, civil war, invasion, blockade, arms race, subversion, making a beginning on socialist construction from a low level of development.

Who or what imposed those circumstances? Imperialism imposed the cost, created the emergency, created the choice: either breakneck industrialization or defeat.

The deformities and distortions that existed in 20th century socialism were due to the imperialist onslaught against the new revolutionary states, not to the intrinsic nature of socialism. I can’t prove this by pointing to a historical example, because we have no example — yet — of a socialist revolution that had an easy birth and a conflict-free childhood.

But we can find other, indirect evidence for the truth of this point. As for one kind of human cost, consider the repression that took place in the late 1930s. I like the point made by Hans Heinz Holz  “the despotic aspects of Soviet socialism occurred in the period of its encirclement.” In the late 1930s the Soviet leaders were not imagining the threat of pro-fascist Fifth Columns, which were coming to power in one country after another, financed and orchestrated by German imperialism. Austria 1934; Spain 1936-1939, and many other places. Harsh measures were necessary

Another example: the forced collectivization that took place after 1929. Its speed was dictated by the necessity of accelerating industrialization.  The industrialization would be paid for out of the heightened agricultural efficiency. The Soviet leaders would have preferred to collectivize slowly and by persuasion and example. They said so at the time.  They did not have the luxury of a slow pace.

I remember that after 1989 as Western journalists toured Eastern Europe they delighted in pointing out the mixed environmental record of, say, the GDR. But the same considerations apply. Under pressure, GDR economic planners cut corners on environmental protections. There was no internal private capitalist profit motive driving socialist enterprises to pollute.  When they were not under external pressure, the environmental record of the socialist states was superb.

Apologists of capitalism claim that, whatever its other shortcomings, capitalism is more “democratic.” Nonsense. If the word “democracy” means the empowerment of working people, then the Soviet Union had democratic features that surpassed any capitalist society. The Soviet state had a greater percentage of workers involved in the Party and government than was the case with parties and governments in capitalist countries.

The extent of income equality, the extent of free education, health care and other social services, guarantees of employment, the early retirement age, the lack of inflation, the subsidies for housing, food, and other basics, and so forth, made it obvious that this was a society run in the class interests of working people. The epic efforts to build socialist industry and agriculture and defend the country during World War II could not have occurred without active popular participation. Thirty-five million people were involved in the soviets (councils).

Soviet trade unions had powers over such things as production goals, dismissals, and their own schools and vacation resorts that few, if any, trade unions in capitalist countries could claim. Unless there is enormous pressure from below, capitalist states never challenge corporate property. Advocates of the superiority of Western democracy ignore class exploitation, focus on process not substance, and give credit for capitalist democracy to capital, not its real defender and promoter, the modern working class. They compare capitalist democracy’s achievements to its past, but, asymmetrically, compare socialist democracy’s achievements to an imagined ideal.

Similar glowing accounts could be given with respect to other socialist countries. Cuba, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos. Specific national conditions (isolation, blockade, partition, invasion) have affected each one of them, slowing or distorting development. In each country, the balance between the planned and the unplanned sector has been different at various stages of development.

How did the planned socialist economic approach fare in the Soviet Union?  How did it work and what were its characteristics?


The merits of a planned socialist economy are many. Faster growth of the productive forces being one. Most socialist revolutions so far have occurred in countries of medium and low development. Standards of living rise steadily. There is stable, proportionate development of the economy, instead of anarchy. Soon there is low or no unemployment. There is no economic boom bust cycle. Socialism ends the fear of technological unemployment. It is egalitarian with regard to national minorities, women, and other oppressed groups. Socialism has a massive commitment to science and culture. It ends the colossal wastefulness inherent in competition. It overcomes poverty and homelessness.

The Soviet Union, for example, not only eliminated the exploiting classes of the old order, but also ended inflation, unemployment, most racial and national discrimination, grinding poverty, and glaring inequalities of wealth, income, education, and opportunity.

In fifty years, the country went from an industrial production that was only 12 percent of that in the United States to industrial production that was 80 percent and an agricultural output 85 percent of the U.S. Though Soviet per capita consumption remained lower than in the U.S., no society had ever increased living standards and consumption so rapidly in such a short period of time for allots people. Employment was guaranteed. Free education was available for all, from kindergarten through secondary schools (general, technical and vocational), universities, and after-work schools. Besides free tuition, post-secondary students received living stipends.

Free health care existed for all, with about twice as many doctors per person as in the United States. Workers who were injured or ill had job guarantees and sick pay. In the mid-1970s, workers averaged 21.2 working days of vacation (a month’s vacation), and sanitariums, resorts, and children’s camps were either free or subsidized. Trade unions had the power to veto firings and recall managers. The state regulated all prices and subsidized the cost of basic food and housing. Rents constituted only 2-3 percent of the family budget; water and utilities only 4-5 percent. No segregated housing by income existed. Though some neighborhoods were reserved for high officials, elsewhere plant managers, nurses, professors and janitors lived side by side.

The government included cultural and intellectual growth as part of the effort to enhance living standards. State subsidies kept the price of books, periodicals and cultural events at a minimum. As a result, workers often owned their own libraries, and the average family subscribed to four periodicals. UNESCO reported that Soviet citizens read more books and saw more films than any other people in the world. Every year the number of people visiting museums equaled nearly half entire population, and attendance at theaters, concerts, and other performances surpassed the total population. The government made a concerted effort to raise the literacy and living standards of the most backward areas and to encourage the cultural expression of the more than a hundred nationality groups that constituted the Soviet Union. In Kirghizia, for example, only one out of every five hundred people could read and write in 1917, but fifty years later nearly everyone could.

In 1983, American sociologist Albert Szymanski reviewed a variety of Western studies of Soviet income distribution and living standards. He found that the highest paid people in the Soviet Union were prominent artists, writers, professors, administrators, and scientists, who earned as high as 1,200 to 1,500 rubles a month. Leading government officials earned about 600 rubles a month; enterprise directors from 190 to 400 rubles a month; and workers about 150 rubles a month. Consequently, the highest incomes amounted to only 10 times the average worker’s wages, while in the United States the highest paid corporate chieftains made 115 times the wages of workers. Privileges that came with high office, such as special stores and official automobiles, remained small and limited and did not offset a continuous, forty-year trend toward greater egalitarianism.

The opposite trend occurred in the main capitalist country, the United States, where by the late 1990s, corporate heads were making 480 times the wages of the average worker. Though the tendency to level wages and incomes created problems, the overall equalization of living conditions in the Soviet Union represented an unprecedented feat in human history. The equalization was furthered by a pricing policy that fixed the cost of luxuries above their value and of necessities below their value. It was also furthered by a steadily increasing “social wage,” that is, the provision of an increasing number of free or subsidized social benefits. Beside those already mentioned, the benefits included, paid maternity leave, inexpensive childcare and generous pensions.

Szymanski concluded, “While the Soviet social structure may not match the Communist or socialist ideal, it is both qualitatively different from, and more equalitarian than, that of Western capitalist countries. Socialism has made a radical difference in favor of the working class.”

There were two broadly different approaches to Soviet planning, 1) War Communism and 2) the New Economic Policy (NEP).  What emerged was the planned economy in the so called Stalin era, 1929-1953. Can you explain what these were, why they came about and what were their merits?


“War communism, ” in my opinion, is really a misnomer (though widely used) for the improvisational, emergency measures taken  in 1919-21 by the Soviet state when the Russian economy was staggering from defeat in the First World War and the chaos of the Civil War. It involved, in part, forcible appropriation of peasant production by the Bolshevik state to feed the starving cities. Peasant anger at such confiscations (and peasants were about 80% of the people) threatened the peasant support for the revolution. In 1921 Lenin replaced it with NEP which partly restored normal market relations in the countryside and allowed for expansion of capitalist relations of production in many areas of the economy, until such time as the economy recovered to pre-war levels.

As you suggest, there was a two-sidedness. But it would be more accurate, I think, to say that there were two main tendencies in all of Soviet politics and economic policy, a right-wing tendency and a left-wing tendency.

This two-sidededness had class roots. Two revolutionary classes made the Bolshevik revolution, the working class and the petty bourgeoisie (i.e., the middle and poor peasants). Throughout the history of the Soviet Union two trends always battled in politics: a right wing, which incorporated the ideas and methods of capitalists, and a left wing which supported class struggle, a strong communist party, and an uncompromising defence of working class leadership. These two currents appeared even before the October Revolution: the Menshevik trend, on the one hand, and the Bolshevik trend on the other. Later, this fight polarized around Bukharin and Stalin, Khrushchev and Molotov, Brezhnev and Andropov, and Gorbachev and Ligachev. The whole history of the USSR can be seen in the light of the struggle between these two trends. However, in the late 1980s, Gorbachev, along with the right wing, won a complete victory.

Your book with co-author Roger Keeran,  Socialism Betrayed Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union,  1917-1991 has a unique understanding of the collapse of the Soviet Union, can you explain briefly how you see this historic event?


Others saw that the Soviet downfall stemmed directly from Gorbachev’s policies rather than from some structural crisis. This means that the word “dismantling” is actually a more accurate metaphor than “collapse.” Others saw that two trends had existed in Soviet politics from the revolution through Gorbachev. Still others saw that a second economy (private, illegal) had developed and grown strong in the bowels of socialism in the 30 years before 1985.

Our more or less singular contribution was to see that these phenomena were linked, that they both explained the Soviet collapse and showed that the collapse was not at all inevitable.

In the aftermath of 1991, Marxists and Communists had  trouble applying their usual, scientific  method of historical materialism to the Soviet downfall,  given the axiom, pushed since the Khrushchev era, that there was no longer a class struggle in the USSR, there was no exploiting class, that corruption and black markets  were survivals from the past, if they existed at all, and that, therefore, there was no material basis for pro-capitalist consciousness .

It turns out, we discovered, there was such a basis — the second economy. But Marxist economists had not studied it.

Our thesis was that the Soviet collapse occurred in the main because of the policies that Mikhail Gorbachev pursued after 1986. The deeper question is where did these policies come from? These policies did not drop from the sky, nor were they the only possible ones to address existing problems. They derived from a debate within the Communist movement, nearly as old as Marxism itself, over how to build a socialist society.

In order to explain the lineage of Gorbachev’s policies before and after 1985, we discuss the two main tendencies or trends in the Soviet debate over building socialism. The ongoing debate centered on this question: under the particular circumstances obtaining at any given time, how should Communists build socialism? The left position favored pushing forward class struggle, the interests of the working class and the power of the Communist Party, and the right position favored retreats or compromises and the incorporation of various capitalist ideas into socialism. In this sense, “left” and “right” were not synonyms for good and bad. Rather, the correctness or appropriateness of a policy had to do with whether it best represented the immediate and long-term interests of socialism under existing conditions. The history of Soviet politics was thus a complex matter.

On the one hand, Vladimir Lenin, who fearlessly pushed forward the class struggle for socialism, at times, favored compromise, as in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the New Economic Policy. On the other hand, Nikita Khrushchev, who often favored incorporating certain Western ideas, at the same time favored a “leftist” policy of greater wage equality. We did not provide a full history and evaluation of Soviet politics but rather a useful, if simplified, backdrop for the later argument that Gorbachev’s early policies resembled the leftwing Communist tradition represented in the main by Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Yuri Andropov, while his later policies resembled the rightwing Communist tradition represented in the main by Nicolai Bukharin and Nikita Khrushchev.

After 1985, Gorbachev’s policies moved to the right, in the sense that they involved what might be called a social democratic vision of socialism that weakened the Communist Party, compromised with capitalism, and incorporated into Soviet socialism certain aspects of capitalist private property, markets, and political forms.

We argue that Gorbachev’s shift in policies had a material basis. The reason for Gorbachev’s shift was the development within socialism of a “second economy” of private enterprise and with it a new and growing petty bourgeois stratum and a new level of Party corruption. The growth of the second economy reflected the problems of the “first economy,” the socialized sector, in meeting the rising expectations of the people. It also reflected the laxness of the authorities in enforcing the law against illegal economic activity, and the failure of the Party to recognize the corrosive effects of private economic activity.

Are there lessons for Cuba today from this, given some of the ‘reforms’ it has introduced?

My co-author Roger Keeran and I visited Cuba in 2011 and 2014. The two articles we wrote after the trips to Cuba — and further study of the recent Cuban reforms — have reinforced our conclusion that there are lessons. But Cuba seems to have learned the lessons.

Obviously, the Soviet Union and Cuba represent two entirely different countries with very different histories and situations. A significant difference has been the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. on Cuba.  Though the Soviet Union also experienced an economic blockade for two decades, the Cuban blockade has lasted longer and cost comparatively more. Now over fifty years old, the blockade has cost the Cubans by conservative estimates more than $104 billion in current prices and, if one takes into account the devaluation of the dollar against the price of gold,  $975 billion. Without the blockade, the Cuban standard of living today might well equal that of Western Europe.

Nevertheless, there are general laws of socialist construction. In spite of obvious differences, Cuba and the Soviet Union shared some features. Both the Soviet Union and Cuba had economies based on public ownership and centralized planning and had the political leadership of a Communist Party, and both Soviet society in 1985 and Cuban society in 2011 faced some similar problems, though to different degrees.

For example, both societies had two currencies, a hard currency geared to international trade and a domestic currency. The Soviet hard currency, whose use was illegal for most citizens, was limited to tourists, diplomats and a few others and was used only in hard currency shops. The Cuban hard currency, however, is not illegal, and many Cubans earn it legally by working in the tourist industry, by earning it as bonuses in certain workplaces, or by receiving it legally as remittances from relatives abroad. The existence of two currencies creates more problems in Cuba than it did in the Soviet Union.

The great disparity in value between pesos (CUP) and hard currency (CUC) (25 to 1) led to a number of problems including a growing inequality between those with access to hard currency and those without, and a brain drain from the professions without access to hard currency to those like tourism with such access.  Driving a cab and receiving hard currency tips could gain more income than teaching.  This was clearly demoralizing and inefficient.

In another example, a second economy, or black market existed in both societies.   In the Soviet Union, however, it represented a greater problem than in Cuba.  Compared to the second economy in Cuba, that in the Soviet Union had  existed  for a longer period, was more widespread and highly developed, and was often linked to national minorities and an organized “mafia.”

In some ways, the Cuban and Soviet problems resembled each other. There was a lack of productivity and efficiency, an insufficiency of quality consumer goods, a shortage of initiative and sense of ownership and responsibility in the workplace, an inadequate diffusion of computer technology, and so forth.

Moreover, one could easily find similarities between the economic remedies proposed by Yuri Andropov in 1983 or even the early Gorbachev policies and the Cuban program of actualization (“updating” in English) proposed in 2011.   For example, both reform efforts hoped to increase efficiency, productivity, motivation and quality by linking compensation to effort, by decentralizing control and responsibility, developing joint ventures with foreign capitalists, encouraging cooperatives, and allowing more latitude to private enterprise.

The Soviet and Cuban situations differed in one outstanding way. The Cuban   process of reform involved rank and file Communists and workers to a much greater extent than the Soviet one. In Cuba, from the development of the reform guidelines in 2010 through their ongoing implementation in 2014, the entire process embraced  mass involvement and the building of mass consensus. The process began in December 2010 through February 2011 with discussions by the people as a whole, followed by discussions by the party in every province, and then followed by discussions at the Sixth PCC Congress in April. In total 163,079 meetings occurred, involving 8,913,838 participants. These discussions modified or incorporated with others 68 percent of the original 291 guidelines, modified 181 others, and created 36 new guidelines. Discussion of the guidelines also occurred in the letters page of Granma, radio phone-ins, internet blogs and trade unions. One observer noted:  “A key point here is that the drafting of new employment law involves a process of consultation with the CTC (the central confederation of trade unions) so detailed and extensive that unions have a de facto veto.”

In the Soviet Union, in 1983 Yuri Andropov initiated economic reforms with workplace discussions.  Under Gorbachev, however, rank and file discussion of changes took the form mainly of public relations and photo opportunities. The broad discussions, encouragement of criticism, and building of consensus were mostly missing from the Gorbachev reform process.

Our book did show that undermining socialist ownership, planning, social benefits and internationalism required the simultaneous erosion of the authority of the Communist Party and the institutions of socialist democracy.

If any “good” has come of the Soviet downfall, it is that Cuba has learned this lesson. Cuba translated and published our book Socialism Betrayed (Socialismo Traicionado) in 2014, with a foreword by one of the now free Cuban Five, Ramon Labanino and we were invited to speak at the book launch at the Havana Book Fair.

Samir Amin: Popular Movements Toward Socialism

The article below by Samir Amin is well worth reading by all interested in a political economy of transformation to socialism. It was published in June’s issue of Monthly Review.

Popular Movements Toward Socialism: Their Unity and Diversity

The following reflections deal with a permanent and fundamental challenge that has confronted, and continues to confront, all popular movements struggling against capitalism. By this I mean both those of movements whose explicit radical aim is to abolish the system based on private proprietorship over the modern means of production (capital) in order to replace it with a system based on workers’ social proprietorship, and those of movements which, without going so far, involve mobilization aimed at real and significant transformation of the relations between labor (“employed by capital”) and capital (“which employs the workers”). Both sorts of movements can contribute, in varying degree, to calling capitalism into question; but they also might merely create the illusion of movement in that direction, although in fact only forcing capital to make the transformations it would need to co-opt a given set of working-class demands. We are well aware that it is not always easy to draw the boundary between efficacy and impotence in regard to the strategies resorted to by these movements, no more so than to determine whether their strategic aims are clashing with their tactical situation.

Taken as a whole, many of these movements can be termed “movements toward socialism.” I borrow this phrase from the terminology introduced during recent decades by some South American parties (Chilean, Bolivian, and others). These parties have given up the traditional aim of Communist parties (“take and hold power to build socialism”), substituting for it the apparently more modest aim of patiently constructing social and political conditions which allow an advance toward socialism. The difference derives from the fact that the building of socialism as proposed by those Communist parties stemmed from a preconceived definition of socialism, derived from the Soviet experience, which can be summed up in two terms: nationalization and state planning. Those parties choosing the label “movement toward socialism” leave as an open question the specification of the methods to be used in socializing the management of a modern economy.

Some, but not all, of these organizations and parties that portray themselves as socialist, or even communist, claim to be the heirs of Marx and even sometimes of the versions of Marxism inherited from Sovietism and/or Maoism.

In fact the triumph of capitalism since the industrial revolution, and its globalization through imperialist expansion, have simultaneously created the conditions for the projected emergence of a higher universal socialist/communist form of civilization. Many streams came together in this invention. Engels, and Lenin after him, gave a well-known classification of its Marxist variant: English classical political economy, French utopian socialism, and German Hegelian philosophy. But this classification simplifies the reality and leaves aside many pre-and post-Marxian contributions.

Of course, Marx’s contribution to formulating the socialist/communist project was the critical breakthrough in its elaboration. Marx’s thought, in fact, was elaborated on the basis of a rigorous scientific critical analysis of capitalism taking into account all aspects of its historical reality. This had not been the case with previous socialist formulations or later ones that disregarded Marx. The formulation of capitalism’s own law of value; the specification of the long-run tendencies of capital accumulation and of their contradictions; the analysis of the relationship between class struggles and international conflicts and likewise of the transformations in methods for managing accumulation and governance; and analysis of the alienated forms of social consciousness—these together define the thoughts of Marx that initiated the unfolding of historic Marxisms, especially those of the Second and Third Internationals, of Sovietism and of Maoism.

The Central Place of the French Revolution in Forming the Modern World

In my understanding of the modern world’s construction, the French Revolution takes a central place. It defined a system of values—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (in present-day terms, Solidarity)—that founded modernity on its fundamental contradiction. In the last analysis these values are much more the values of the still-to-be-invented higher socialist civilization than they are values whose real and full actualization could be acceptable to capitalism. In this sense the French Revolution was more than a “bourgeois revolution” (such as the 1688 English “Glorious Revolution”); it proclaimed—with the Jacobin ascendancy—the need to go beyond.

Capitalist values—those which are useful to its spread—are those that inspired the American Non-Revolution: Liberty and Property. Together they define “free enterprise”: whether in the form of a small family farming business, as was the case in the New England colonies; or of the slave-labor-based farms of the Southern colonies; or, in later periods, of industrial Big Business and then of financialized monopolies. Linked together, these two values exclude any aspirations for an equality going beyond universal equality of legal rights. “Equality of opportunity” is the ideological phraseology that finesses the starting-point inequalities which distinguish the property-owning classes from the proletarians who have only their labor-power to sell. Liberty and Property together make inequality seem legitimate: inequality is made to seem the result of individuals’ talent and hard work. They lead people to ignore the virtues of solidarity and recognize only their opposites: competition among individuals and among businesses.

By their very nature Liberty and Equality are conflicting values that can be reconciled only when bourgeois property, as the property only of a minority, has been suppressed. The French Revolution, even at its most radical Jacobin phase, did not go that far: it remained protective of property rights and held them sacred, imagining them to be generalizable in the form of small family farms and artisanal enterprises. It had no way to grasp how capitalism would develop, how it would put such emphasis on the inevitably ongoing concentration of modern capitalist property.

The socialist/communist idea, understood as a stage of civilization superior to the capitalist stage, takes form precisely through the gradually growing consciousness of what is implied in a sincere effectuation of the slogan “liberty, equality, solidarity”: the substitution of collective workers’ property in place of the bourgeois-minority property form.

Diverse Lines of Descent in the Formation of Socialist Thought and Action

At the origin of modern peoples’ struggle movements is the challenge posed by capitalist social relations and concomitant exploitation of the workers. These movements, in some instances, arose spontaneously; in others, they were prompted, with varying degrees of success, by groups that endeavored to mobilize and organize the workers for that purpose.

Such movements appeared very early in the new Industrial Revolution Europe, especially in England, France, and Belgium; a little later in Germany and elsewhere in Europe; and in the New England region of the United States. They expanded throughout the nineteenth century and took varying directions (termed “revolutionary” and “reformist”) in the twentieth.

Other movements sprang up in the peripheral capitalist societies, i.e., in those countries integrated into the globalized capitalist system as regions subjected to the accumulation requirements of the dominant centers. As it extended itself worldwide historical capitalism was polarizing, in the sense that dominant centers and dominated peripheries took shape simultaneously in an asymmetric relationship steadily reproduced and deepened by the logic of the system. Capitalism and imperialism constituted the inseparable two sides of a single reality. In those conditions the movements of struggle against the established system were broadly anti-imperialist, the forces initiating them seeking not to build a post-capitalist society but to “copy in order to catch up” with the opulent societies of the centers. Nevertheless, because the bourgeoisies of those countries, formed at their births by a relationship of dependency (and by that very fact naturally “compradore,” the term originally used by Chinese Communism to characterize them), were in no state to remake themselves into national bourgeoisies able to carry out a true bourgeois revolution (“anti-feudal,” in the terminology of Third International Communism). Because of this, the combat against imperialism, undertaken by a broad anti-imperialist and anti-feudal social alliance led by a party proclaiming its perspective as socialist/communist, became potentially an anti-capitalist one.

These peoples’ and national emancipation movements took as their aim to pass through the stage of anti-imperialist/anti-feudal/peoples’ (and not bourgeois)/democratic revolution. So they are to be counted in the movement toward socialism.

We thus have to examine more closely two sorts of movement toward socialism: those arising and spreading in the imperialist centers, and those developing in their dominated peripheries. These two sorts of movements never bear a union label saying “movement toward socialism,” but some of them might potentially become such. What then are the conditions and criteria allowing us so to classify them?

The Lineages of Movements Toward Socialism in the Centers of the World Capitalist System

In the nineteenth century, more so than elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, it was in France that a newborn awareness of the need to abolish capitalism and replace it with a socialist organization of society took its first steps. The carrier for this progression was provided by the heirs of Jacobinism, major actors in 1848 and then in the 1871 Paris Commune—most notably Auguste Blanqui, whose theories were the inspiration for French revolutionary syndicalism. Self-governing production cooperatives, according to these initial formulations, were to provide the institutional and legal framework for the socialization of property.

“French socialism”—if that is what it is to be called—was distinguished by its idealist character from the socialism inspired by Marx. It derived, rather, from the heritage of eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophy—to whose ethical values like justice, citizenship, equality, liberty, and solidarity it gave the most socially radical interpretation. But it remained unaware of any scientific analysis of how the process of capital accumulation is produced and reproduced, the process that provided Marx with the first and only analytic understanding of the rationale and nature of the aspiration for socialism.

It is thus understandable that Marx, and then the historical Second and Third Internationals’ varieties of Marxism, were critical of this “French socialism’s” theory and practice. Blanquism is criticized for substituting a strategy of conspiracy and coup d’État for strategies based on struggle by a self-organized proletariat over the long haul; Proudhon was subjected to as harsh a critique; and revolutionary syndicalism was criticized for its “elitist” organizational conception. We will come back to this question of French-style “revolutionary syndicalism,” whose living traces can still be discerned in modern-day France, in distinction from the “mass” or “consensus” trade unionism of the other European countries. Of course there are other traditions beyond the French, especially the English, that in Europe helped to form the movement or movements, effective or illusory, toward socialism. But I will not discuss them here.

It was those streams that were to merge, during Marx’s lifetime and with his active participation, into the International Workingmen’s Association (“First International”). In this connection, the founding resolution of the First International, written by Marx, stated: “The task of the International is to generalize and unify the working class’s spontaneous movements, but not to prescribe for or impose upon them any doctrinal system whatsoever.”

The First International grouped certain organizations—parties and unions in an embryonic stage, associations of various sorts—which subscribed to differing “doctrinal systems”; that of Marx but also those of Proudhon and Bakunin. Within the International, Marx carried on a political and ideological combat against doctrines that he regarded as scientifically unfounded and thereby likely to spread illusions and render the working-class movement ineffective. But, in the quoted sentence, he propounded the fundamental principle (to which I adhere): accept and recognize diversity, act to reinforce unity in struggle.

But what in Europe was to develop in the last third of the nineteenth century, especially after Marx’s death but while Engels was still alive, was precisely an evolution away from that principle on the part of its movements toward socialism.

The Second International was founded by a meeting among “parties” that had become, at least relatively, “mass workers’ parties,” in practice one for each country. This evolution went along with the formation of mass trade unions, vastly bigger than those in the Europe that Marx had known: to each country, “its” party. Differing from one country to the other, all still shared the ideal of being its country’s “only workers’ party.” They considered themselves such since their establishment was based on fusion among movements with different traditions. The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) grouped Lassalians and Marxists, the French Socialist Party united Jaurèsians (heirs of the “French socialism” tradition), Guesdists (Marxists), and Blanquists. The British party was indistinguishable from the Trade Unions, federated in the Labor Party. To many, at the time, this evolution seemed positive and solid. But history was to show it to be more fragile than was thought. Nevertheless “unity,” realized in form on the organizational level, was thenceforward to be taken not as complementary to diversity—whose very existence was denied by many—but as incompatible with it. The apparent unity of the workers’ party seemed strengthened by the emergence of similarly unified trade unions. “Mass unionism” cleared its own pathway—its chosen aim was that all the workers in each line of industry or trade were to be organized in and belong to a the same union. France remained an exception to this general tendency. Each union, in the tradition of revolutionary syndicalism, recruited only a politicized vanguard and endeavored to lead the masses of wage-workers, to organize their struggles, and/or to support spontaneous movements. The Union would see itself as a quasi-party, an ally or a competitor to the workers’ parties. Mass unionism, in contrast, does not favor the politicization of its rank and file but actually favors their passive obedience, their depoliticization. The mass union sticks with its lowest common denominator—purely economic demands and, possibly, electoral support to its ally, the social-democratic party.

The 1914 war was to expose, for all to see, the impotence of the Second International’s parties and trade unions. Lenin himself was surprised by Kautsky’s “betrayal.” Nevertheless, the “revisionist” deviation initiated by Eduard Bernstein—and its success—ought to have produced an understanding that those parties and trade unions no longer constituted a “movement toward socialism.” The principal cause of this deviation, nevertheless, was not to be found in a “betrayal by the leaders,” nor in the corruption of the small layer of labor-aristocrats, nor in the careerism of those organizations’ bureaucrats. It originated from an objective fact: the opulence of a society based on imperialist plunder. The deviation kept going during the interwar period (1920–1939) and even after the Second World War in the thirty-year postwar boom (1945–1975). The “reformist” parties and trade-unions—who had given up on calling capitalism into question—retained the confidence of the majority of the working class, reducing the Leninist-communists to minority status.

Of course, in writing these lines I am aware that they should be read in a nuanced way. At certain times in the interwar period, struggles to preserve (bourgeois) democracy from the Nazi and other fascist threats combined with struggles to improve the workers’ living conditions. At that instant the Popular Fronts offered a hope of possibly reconverting themselves into movements toward socialism. In the immediate postwar years, because the class-collaboration of the European bourgeoisies with triumphant Nazi Germany had coincided with the decisive role of the working classes in the resistance movements and the prestige of the Red Army which had routed the Nazis, it once more became possible to hope for a rebirth of movements toward socialism, especially in France and Italy. The conquests of the working classes in Great Britain, Western Europe, and even the United States—social security, full-employment policies, annual wage increases in pace with increases in the average productivity of social labor—can in no case be viewed with contempt. They transformed, for the better, the face of those societies. But at the same time one is forced to recognize that those workers’ gains were made possible—for capital—by the intensification of imperialist plunder. During the whole thirty-year postwar boom energy (petroleum) had become practically costless.

Thus there was, in the imperialist centers, no serious obstacle to the victory of capital’s counter-offensive that began in 1975 and put an end both to the long boom and to further workers’ gains—nor, likewise, to continued deviation by the former Second International’s parties and trade-unions, which thenceforward were merely social-liberal. So we reached the end of the road: a “consensus” society accepting “eternal capitalism”; depoliticization; and, in place of worker/citizens a populace of spectators and consumers.

Nevertheless, this victory of capital and the disappearance of any movement toward socialism from the imperialist centers are not as solid as one might believe, or pretend to believe. The renewal of struggles against the social devastations concomitant to the dictatorship of triumphant capital signify the possible renewal of a movement toward socialism. This will be discussed further on.

The Leninist Lineages of the Movement Toward Socialism

The first victorious revolution to be carried out in the name of socialism was that of Russia, a semi-peripheral country. And this was not fortuitous. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, established at the close of the nineteenth century, regarded itself as part of the European Marxist family, whose mentor was Karl Kautsky. But in fact the RSDLP was not European; it signified the shift in the center of gravity of movements to socialism from the imperialist centers to their peripheries. That shift was to shape the whole twentieth century. So it was not by chance that its radical tendency (the Bolsheviks) gained the upper hand over, and put on the defensive, the conciliating tendency (the Mensheviks), while the inverse of that relationship prevailed in all the European parties.

Nevertheless, Lenin always stayed faithful to Second International thinking in regards to the relationship between necessary unity and the diversity of the currents comprising the movement toward socialism. He even emphasized its view on two important questions. In the first place he believed there to be no place for multiple working-class parties—“one class/one party.” No parties except those recognized by the Third International could be participants in the movement toward socialism. The other parties were nothing but traitors, and the task was to win the masses they were deceiving. He thought that possible until the—completely foreseeable—defeat of the 1918–1919 German revolution. Secondly, he refused to allow for trade-unions independent of the Party. For, without guidance from the Party, they could never think beyond reformist struggle for immediate economic demands. It was therefore necessary to integrate them into the system of the movement toward socialism by making them submit to the status of a transmission belt for the revolutionary strategy of the revolutionary Party. Nevertheless, the real history of labor struggles in Europe itself was to refute both Lenin’s and the Second International’s conceptualizations of the role of trade unions. At the present moment the “big mass unions” (as in Germany), consensus-based and firmly allied to the “big parliamentary parties of the left” (like the German SPD), have posed no obstacle to the unfolding offensive by capital of the financialized monopolies; on the contrary, they helped it to reach its objectives. Contrariwise, the remnant of the revolutionary syndicalist tradition in France (ironically called “elitist” and “minoritarian”), because it leaves a large measure of autonomy to grassroot initiatives, has proved to be more effective in resisting capital’s offensive—a state of affairs deplored by the French bosses, who reserve their praise for the “German model.”

Leninism, defined like that, was to inspire the dominant lineages of the twentieth century’s movement toward socialism while the European lineages were, as I pointed out above, to slide more and more openly toward opportunist positions. At best they advance merely trade-union demands—signing up for permanent maintenance of fundamental capitalist relationships and thereby taking their leave from anything that might be considered the movement toward socialism.

Was Lenin personally responsible for the “Leninism” of his successors, in the USSR and throughout the world? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that all his successors, including Stalin, adhered to Leninist dogmas on management of the unity/diversity relationship. No, of course, insofar as Lenin lived through only the first years of the Russian Revolution and so bears no personal responsibility for whatever ensued.

And that which ensued had a positive aspect, one of decisive importance for the future of the world movement toward socialism. Leninism broke with the Eurocentric dogma that socialist revolution was on the agenda only in advanced (i.e., imperialist) capitalist countries. He takes account of the transfer, from the centers to the peripheries, of the combat for socialism’s center of gravity. This was proclaimed, Lenin present, in 1920 at the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku. And the Third International was to be present throughout the world while the Second had existed only in Europe.

In regard to Soviet society the movement toward socialism led by Leninist bolshevism was constrained by the objective conditions of the country (its backwardness; its semi-peripheral-capitalist nature) to reduce “building socialism” (its professed aim) to the building of state socialism. I insist here that state socialism is different from state capitalism. State capitalism (like that of France under de Gaulle) remains a system in service to monopoly capital (even when making major concessions benefiting the workers), state socialism involves two aspects of a quite different nature: (1) its obligation to pose as equivalent to worker-power at least by legitimating itself through bold social policies; and (2) its independent posture in relations with the world capitalist system.

This state socialism, the defining characteristic of Stalinism, which, consequently, makes it correct to call it Stalinist-Leninist [in preference to Marxist-Leninist—Ed.] was pregnant with the possibility of gradual leftward evolution. (That is to say, the potential remained for the socialization of economic management ) through effective participation of the workers in the exercise of power—progressively more advanced, more in keeping with socialist values, forms. But it also was pregnant with the risk of stagnation with a final fall to the right by way of capitalist restoration. Which is what happened in Eastern Europe and the USSR with Yeltsin and Gorbachev. Would Trotsky have done better? I doubt that very much. Which is why the Fourth International (in reality the Third International, second edition) never amounted to more than a springboard for orators reproducing ad nauseam the principles of Leninism without going beyond them.

The Stalinist and post-Stalinist systems never were able even to begin going beyond the state socialism (economic stratification and central planning) stage. A start to such a going beyond was made by Titoist Yugoslavia. It is not by chance that this attempt was ostracized by Moscow. For at the level of its actions on the world stage, Third International (and then Cominform) Communism had gradually come to subordinate all strategies of the movements toward socialism to the tactical needs of the Soviet state, whose sole concern was with the requirements of resistance to capitalist encirclement. The theory of the “non-capitalist path,” imposed on its Bandung-period nonaligned partner countries—especially the radicalized anti-imperialist Egypt of Nasser—which I criticized as soon as it was formulated (while I was attached to the Planning bodies of the Nasser regime and shortly thereafter), constituted the abandonment of any strategic perspective in favor of mere tactics.

It was left for Chinese Communism and Mao to introduce a different conception of the movement toward socialism in world capitalism’s peripheries, not by breaking with the heritage of Leninism but by going beyond it. That makes up the subject of another lineage of the movement toward socialism, which we will take up below.

Lineages of the Movement Toward Socialism in World Capitalism’s Peripheries

I will begin by taking a look at the Chinese experience.

The March–May 1871 Paris Commune and the 1851–1864 Taiping Revolution (and I do mean to say Revolution, not Revolt) initiated the entrance of the human race into the contemporary phase of its history. They put a end to the illusive belief that capitalism was progressive, they proclaimed the end of its summer.

Judged by their long-term significance, these were two gigantic revolutions. One of them (the Commune) unfolded in a developed capitalist metropolis, at the time second only to England in economic stature; the other broke out in a region of the world that had just been integrated into globalized imperialist capitalism with the status of a dominated periphery.

The Taiping Revolution overthrew the despotic imperial autocracy of the Ching dynasty, it abolished the regime of peasant exploitation by the ruling class of that mode of social production which I have termed “tributary” (the Chinese Communists called it “feudal,” a difference in terminology that is secondary). But at the same time the Taiping Revolution rejected the forms of capitalism which had infiltrated themselves into the interstices of the tributary system; it abolished private commerce. It rejected just as strongly foreign domination by imperialist capital. And it did so extremely early, since the first imperialist aggressions foreshadowing the reduction of China to the status of a dominated periphery in imperialist capitalist globalization—the 1840 Opium War—had taken place a mere decade earlier. And, in advance of their time, the Taipings abolished polygamy, concubinage, and prostitution.

The Taiping Revolution—they also were “sons of heaven,” i.e., it had a messianic aspect “linked” to Christianity—laid the foundation-stones for socialism/higher stage of human civilization by formulating the first revolutionary strategy of global imperialist capitalism’s peripheral peoples. The Taiping Revolution is the ancestor of (to use the later terminology of the Chinese Communists) “the people’s anti-feudal/anti-imperialist revolution.” It proclaimed the awakening of the peoples of the South (of Asia, Africa, and Latin America) that was to shape the twentieth century. It was an inspiration to Mao. It showed the pathway to revolution for all the peoples of the modern global capitalist system’s peripheries, the path that allowed them to enter into the long socialist transition.

The Paris Commune is not just a chapter in French history, nor are the Taipings just a chapter in Chinese history. These two revolutions had universal significance. The Paris Commune gave substance to the “proletarian” internationalism that the First International invoked as an alternative to chauvinist nationalisms, to capitalist cosmopolitanism, to past racial, linguistic, and confessional identities. The universalism of the Taipings’ call was symbolized by their (said to be “curious”) adoption of the figure of Christ, who nevertheless was a figure alien to Chinese history. How could a human being defeated by his adversaries—the ruling power—be a supposedly invincible “God?” For the Taipings their Christ was not the one held up by the missionaries who had tried to introduce their submissive Christianity into China. Rather, he was the exemplary example of what the struggle for human liberation had to be: courageous unto death and by that very fact proving the secret of success to be solidarity in struggle.

The Paris Commune and the Taiping Revolution elsewhere proved capitalism to be a mere parenthesis in history. A short parenthesis, moreover. Capitalism has merely fulfilled the (honorable) role of creating—in an historically short space of time—the conditions that made its surpassing/abolition necessary in order to allow the construction of a more advanced stage of human civilization. The Paris Commune and the Taiping Revolution, by that very fact, opened history’s current chapter—that which was to develop in the twentieth century and be continued in the twenty-first. They opened the succeeding chapters of the springtime of peoples, parallel to capitalism’s autumn.

China, at the far end of the continent, likewise showed characteristics particularly favorable to precocious political maturation. China had very early, even before Europe, begun to go beyond its (“advanced,” solidly formed) socio-economic tributary mode. In its invention of modernity it was ahead by five centuries in its abandonment of a religion of individual salvation—Buddhism—in favor of a sort of unreligious secularism before that word existed; and bold development of commercial relationships based on the internal market. Moreover, China (unlike India and the Ottoman Empire) long resisted the assaults of European imperialist capitalism. It thus was not until 1840 that British gunboats broke open the doors to the Celestial Empire. In combination, this aggression together with the earlier advancements of Chinese capitalism had prodigious accelerating effects: inequalities in landownership (to which the logic of the tributary system posed declining resistance) grew faster, and the “betrayal” of the ruling class (the Emperor and the landed aristocracy) quickly replaced their earlier attempts at “national” resistance. So this is how we understand the precociousness of the Taiping Revolution and its “anti-feudal/anti-imperialist” nature.

So two great revolutions, but two revolutions at work on each of the two complementary fields of globalized imperialist capitalism—at the center and at the periphery—in the two “weak links” of this worldwide system.

Were Marx and historic Marxism(s) up to the analytic demands of this reality of globalized capitalism and thus able to form effective strategies to “change the world,” i.e., to abolish capitalism? Yes and no. Marx yielded to the temptation of seeing in the worldwide expansion of capitalism a force that would homogenize economic and social conditions, reducing the workers of the whole world to the sole status of employees exploited by capital in the same way and to the same intensity everywhere. On this basis it justified, as progressive in the last analysis, colonialism. There is no lack of supporting citations to be found in Marx’s writings, spotlighting the progressive consequences, however unintentional, of colonialism—i.e., despite its odious practices (denounced by Marx) in India, Algeria, South Africa, Eritrea—as well as “Yankee” annexation of Texas and California (“industrious,” as distinguished from the “lazy” Mexicans.)*

By this logic Marx condemned the Taipings—about whom he knew nothing at all! Nevertheless, whenever he dealt with countries of which he was not totally ignorant, Marx sketched out a quite different vision of capitalist expansion. Marx saw nothing positive in the colonization of Ireland by England; on the contrary, he unreservedly denounced its destructive effects upon the English working class itself. In regard to Russia—which was less foreign to him than China was—Marx had an intuition that it was a “weak link” (to use a term coined by Lenin) in the worldwide capitalist chain and that, by that very fact, an anti-capitalist revolution which would clear the way for socialist advance was possible. Marx’s correspondence with Vera Zasulitch is evidence of this.1 He saw the possibility of a revolution with a strong peasant dimension, based on the resistance of peasant communities (organized as a mir)—if they could free themselves from feudalism through the real abolition of serfdom. Even though the peasants would themselves be threatened by expropriation to the gain of both some newly rich peasants and of the new latifundiary landlords (former feudal lords), a revolution that might be able to clear an original path for the socialist advance.

Lenin, and so the historic “Leninist” Marxism, made a great stride forward. Lenin denounced “imperialism.” It does not matter at all that, probably because of his respect for Marx, he called it a new and recent stage of capitalism. He drew the two obligatory and conjoined consequences: “revolution” was no longer on the agenda in the “West”; contrariwise, “revolution,” was on the agenda in the “East.” Lenin did not come to this conclusion right away. He wavered. He still hoped, for example, that the revolution which had started in the “weak link of the system” (Russia) would carry in its wake that of the workers in the developed centers (Germany, first of all). His reading of capitalism’s first great systemic crisis (which began in the 1870s and led to the First World War) saw it also as the “final” crisis of moribund capitalism. But Lenin quickly drew a different conclusion from the facts: he had been fooling himself; the revolution had been defeated in Europe (in Germany); those to come were starting to sprout in the East (in China, in Iran, in the former Ottoman Empire, in the colonies and semi-colonies). Nevertheless, Lenin failed to relate his new reading of Marxism to a deepening of his thought regarding the place of Russia in the global capitalist system, that of a periphery (or semi-periphery). He saw in that position—“semi-Asiatic” Russia—an obstacle rather than a trump card. No more did Lenin see the “peasant question” as central to the new “revolution” on the agenda. He thought, rightly or wrongly, that the possibilities inherent in the mir had been wiped out by the development of capitalism in Russia (The Development of Capitalism in Russia was the title of one of his earliest books.) He drew the consequence: the Russian revolution would give the land to the peasants, but only to make them owners of their land.

So it was for Mao, the heir of the Taipings, to master absolutely all the teachings of this story. Mao formulated the strategy and the aims of the long transition to socialism starting with an anti-imperialist/anti-“feudal” revolution to be carried out in the given conditions of the global system’s peripheral societies. His definition of the tasks of this “anti-feudal” revolution expressed Mao’s absolute rejection of the backward-looking illusion in any form whatsoever. The revolution of the peoples of the periphery would of necessity sign up for the universalist perspective of socialism.

So Mao’s Chinese Communism was to put in operation a coherent strategy of movement toward socialism for China, whose teachings carry great importance for all the peoples of the peripheries (Asia, Africa, and Latin America). Here we are, come back to our fundamental question: the relationship between unity and diversity.

The anti-imperialist/anti-feudal/popular and democratic (but not bourgeois democratic) revolution links diverse social, ideological, and cultural forces. It cannot be a “proletarian revolution.” Indeed, to this day the proletariat is scarcely better than a feeble, embryonic, presence in any of the modern societies of the peripheries. This revolution has to be, just as much, that of the majority of oppressed and exploited peasants. It has to be that of large portions of the educated middle classes who find their expression in the revolutionary intelligentsia. It can neutralize (without suppressing) political intervention, seeking to restrain the movement toward socialism, by the local bourgeoisie. It can even grease the slide of that bourgeoisie from its natural compradore behavior to a pro-national outlook.

The fact remains that Chinese objective conditions, at that stage, scarcely allowed anything but the establishment of a state socialism. Which was done. But this state socialism, which began as an imitation of the Soviet model, quickly diverged from it on diverse and important questions. Among these were questions indissociable from governance over the rural population and democratization of the socialization of economic and political life.

According to Mao, maintenance and reinforcement of the unity of the people that had been sealed in the course of the liberation war implied management of urban/rural relations emphasizing equality of living standards among industrial and agricultural workers and consequently rejecting the option of “the primitive socialist accumulation” which puts all the burden of development and industrial modernization onto the peasantry. That choice having been made, the conditions were then ripe for advancing in a possible democratization of the society. The Maoist formula for this was that of the “mass line.” As for everything to do with the evolution of the Chinese system of movement toward socialism, its advances and (post-Maoist) steps backward, and differing future alternatives, were opened up (transformation of state socialism into state capitalism).

The major lesson that I draw from this reading of China’s evolution from 1950 to today is that until now its treatment of the relationship between the unity (of the nation, of the people) and the diversity (of the social components of that nation) has been correct enough to give some legitimacy to the Beijing power structure and consequently to guarantee social stability. The unparalleled success of the emergence of China, in comparison with that of other countries of the contemporary South (Brazil and India, for example), is the result of this better (or less bad!) management of the unity/diversity relationship.

Other examples of movement toward socialism in countries of the periphery have successfully gone past several fine stages, having, among other things, known how to manage correctly the unity/diversity relationship and thus have eased the evolution of the originally anti-imperialist struggle toward the implementation of policies that, having gone outside the framework of the logics of capitalism, write themselves onto the long road to socialism. We refer, of course, to Vietnam and Cuba.

We might likewise refer to the advances realized in South America during the previous decades in Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Starting from powerful revolts of the popular classes, these movements have won elections (exceptionally, for these times) and have passed a first stage. But, to go forward and become real movements toward socialism establishing facts and not merely expressions of hopes, they need to find more effective answers to the challenge of the unity/diversity contradiction.

We cannot, however, ignore the examples of swingeing [i.e., scathing] failure that characterized the broad popular movements that during recent decades overthrew bloody dictatorships but were unable to impose themselves as movements toward socialism. We are thinking here of the movements that overthrew the dictatorships of Moussa Traoré in Mali, Marcos in the Philippines, and Suharto in Indonesia. None of these movements were able to formulate and impose a common program based on unity in diversity. The same nonexistent or even deplorable management of this contradiction is characteristic of the movements in Arab societies since 2011 (Egypt, Tunisia, Syria). So there is no movement toward socialism in any of these countries, despite the fact that objective conditions for its possible emergence do exist.

Looking backward in time, the Bandung epoch (1955–1975/1980) was that of a victorious takeoff for national liberation movements in Africa and Asia. For basic reasons, which I have invoked in my analysis, they were pregnant with the possibility of becoming movements toward socialism. But in reality what happened to their unfolding, to their victories, to their tomorrows?

This question needs a nuanced answer. Yes, at certain moments in the expansion of popular movements that were relatively more advanced, the movement toward socialism seemed, in outline, possible. This, for example was the case in “Communist” (actually advanced national popular) South Yemen or, very sketchily, in Sudan. In many African instances the state powers issuing from parties that had organized and directed the national liberation were professedly socialist, sometimes even Marxist-Leninist, more often professing a tradition, more imaginary than real, that they termed socialist. And this posture was not demagogic; it expressed the ambitions of leading progressive groups and of their real popular bases. Nevertheless, all these regimes emphasized “the unity of the people” (behind their leaders!) and most often denied the extent, even the reality, of the diversity of social interests competing within the broad national alliance or of other sorts of diversity among the components (ethnic, religious, linguistic) of the nation. This mediocre, at best, management of the fundamental contradiction of the movement toward socialism is at the bottom of their incapacity to progress at a sustained pace, of their rapid decrepitude once the limits of what they could achieve had been reached, of the erosion of their legitimacy—and thus of their sliding toward a return to the sheepfold managed by contemporary imperialism and its partners the compradorized bourgeoisie or, if need be, the compradore state.

Only a concrete, country by country, examination would let us say more. I have put forward some concrete analyses of this obstructed emergence of the movement for socialism for some countries of Asia, Africa, and the Arab world—obviously and especially for Nasserist Egypt.

In this tumultuous history, the parties professing Marxism-Leninism—when they existed—were unable to bend the course of events in the direction of the movement toward socialism. There are various reasons for their weakness; but undoubtedly their adhesion to the Moscow camp within international Communism sometimes played a decisive role in the annihilation of the hopes placed upon them. That they went over to the “non-capitalist path” propounded by Moscow provides the most dramatic example of this: these parties thus became the “left wing” of a power system that was sliding rightward.

In the case of India the breakup of the former Communist Party of India, aligning itself de facto with the Congress, and the formation of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), of Maoist inspiration, did not result in the qualitative leap that would have been needed to make of the CPI-M a replica of what the Chinese Communist Party had been. There are many and various reasons that explain this failure, such as the sacred nature of the caste system with its alienating effects on the spread of class struggles, and the diversity of the nations comprising the Indian Union. Having entered governments (by way of elections) in West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI-M had to the credit side of its balance sheet the realization of non-negligible progressive measures. But it did not succeed in reversing the balance of forces on the scale of the Indian Union in favor of a movement toward socialism. Unable to go beyond the limits of what could be realized by it in those two states, it then was gradually “absorbed” by the system. A radicalization of Maoist Indian Communism then was outlined in the formation of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and the peasant/tribal war that it undertook. We have no choice but to recognize its failure, and then the breakup of the Party. It must nevertheless by noted that the same line of action produced some results in Nepal and outlined, sketchily, a possible movement toward socialism.

I have termed as “national-popular” regimes the family of these advances of the “first awakening of the South” (the Bandung decades), within which the movement toward socialism was only sketchily inscribed, impeded in its possible development by the tendency of the ruling political classes to maintain their exclusive power, even at the price of a return to the compradore fold.

The Challenge Before the Movement Toward Socialism: Socialization of the Management of A Modern Economy

The central question posed by revolutionary and/or authentic socialism (or communism or Marxism, or Marxist-Leninism, or Maoism) professing reformist advances was and remains that of socialization of the management of a “modern” economy, whose foundations were laid by the spread of historic capitalism as much in its dominant centers as in its dominated peripheries. In the centers the deviation of reformist socialism and then its later abandonment of its references to Marx led logically to giving up on posing the “post-capitalism” question. Contrariwise, in the peripheries that make up the stage for enactment of revolutions carried out in the perspective of building socialism, the question of socialization of the management of economic life has remained at the heart of the debates and conflicts that have unfolded among the revolutionary vanguards and the holders of state power. Of course the specific objective conditions of the revolution in the peripheries of globalized capitalism have weighed heavily on the scale: it was simultaneously necessary to “catch up” (develop the productive forces and in order to do so, to “copy” and reproduce capitalist forms of organizing production) and “to do something else” (to build socialism). The answer given to that question has been the construction of “state socialisms” or “state capitalisms,” the line between these two forms being itself vague and shifting. The fact remains that in the theoretical elaborations, as in the programs, of the parties professing socialism, advances in socialization of economic management and advances in democratization of society’s political management have always been thought of as inseparable. Affirmation of this central principle in formulating the project for a future socialism/communism is worthy of recall, the more so because it was exactly the state socialisms/state capitalisms of the Chinese, Soviet, and others’ experiments which, in their practices, have on a broad scale separated these two dimensions of a single challenge.

Autumn of Capitalism, Springtime of the Peoples?

Although susceptible to forming the head and tail of a single coin, the autumn of capitalism and the springtime of peoples are not the same thing.

The emergence at the end of the nineteenth century of the new form of capitalism, monopoly capitalism, was the autumnal equinox of that system—of that historical parenthesis, as I have said. Capitalism had “done its time,” the short period (limited to the nineteenth century) during which it still accomplished progressive functions was over. By this I mean that, in the nineteenth century, the “creative” dimension of capitalist accumulation (fantastic acceleration, in comparison with previous periods throughout human history; technological progress; the emancipation of the individual, even though this mainly benefited the privileged but was limited and deformed for everyone else) still outweighed the destructive consequences of that accumulation. The latter were primarily the effects of destruction of societies of the peripheries incorporated by imperialist expansion inseparable from historic capitalism. But with the emergence of monopoly capitalism the relationship of creative destruction in all of these respects was reversed to the detriment of the “creative” one.

It is in the framework of this long-run perspective that I have analyzed the two long systemic crises of “obsolete” (“senile”) capitalism: the first long crisis which extended from 1871–1873 up to 1945–1955, the second, still underway, which began a century later, starting with 1971–1973. I have emphasized in this analysis the central means mobilized by capital to overcome its permanent crisis: the construction and vertiginous growth of a Department III (complementing the two departments—production of means of consumption and production of means of production—dealt with by Marx) for absorption of the surplus linked to conjoined monopoly rents and imperialist rents.2

Lenin was the first to take notice of this qualitative change in the nature of capitalism. His sole sin was optimism, the belief that this first crisis of capitalism would be the last one. He underestimated the perverse and destructive effects of the imperialist unfolding in the central societies of the system. Having drawn the consequences of a precise estimate of those effects, Mao chose patience: the socialist road would be very long and strewn with ambushes.

The twentieth century was indeed that of a first time “awakening of the South,” more exactly an awakening of the peoples, the nations, and the states of the peripheries of the system: starting with Russia (a “semi-periphery”), then engulfing China, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In this sense the twentieth century was that of the first springtime of the peoples involved. I have pointed out the series of major events which, right from the outset of the century, proclaimed those springtimes—the Russian (1905–1917), Chinese (from 1911), Mexican (1910–1920), and other revolutions. I have put the Bandung period for contemporary Asia and Africa, which was both the crown and the end of that great moment in universal history, back into this framework. Thus, in some way we can read this response of the peoples dominated by the imperialist unfolding as a continuation of the task undertaken by the Taiping Revolution and as its generalization across three continents.

In contrast, the Paris Commune had no successors in the developed West. Despite their courageous attempts, the Third International Communists did not succeed in building a historic camp alternative to the camp aligned upon rule of society by the imperialist monopolies. It is here that lies the true tragedy of the twentieth century, not in the inadequacies of the peripheries’ awakening but in its absence in the centers. The inadequacies—then the fatal deviations—of the peripheries’ nations might well have been overcome if the peoples of the centers had broken with their own pro-imperialist alignment.

The springtimes of peoples that unfolded during the twentieth century have worn out their effects. From deviation to deviation, they ended by collapsing and falling rightward before capital’s counter-offensive. During the 1990s this collapse was expressed through the series of triumphant counter-revolutions in that decade. Those possibilities that had existed, whether a leftward evolution of these exhausted systems or, in crisis, their stabilization around center-left formulae keeping open the future, were broken by the triple conjunction linking: (1) the inadequacies of popular protest limited to democratic demands unrelated to social or geopolitical questions; (2) the exclusively repressive responses of the power structures; (3) interventions by the imperialist West. In these conditions it is just farcical to treat the “revolutions” of the USSR and the countries of the European East (1989–1991) as “springtimes of peoples.” Built on huge illusions about capitalist reality, these movements ended with nothing that might be considered positive. The peoples involved are still waiting for their springtime, which perhaps might yet come.

Throughout the course of the twentieth century and right up to today the autumn of capitalism and the springtime of the peoples (itself confined to the peoples of the peripheries) have been entirely separate. For that reason the autumn of capitalism has provided the major motive force of evolution. Which it has switched onto the rails of increasing barbarism, the only logical answer that conforms to the requirements for maintaining the dominion of capital. In the first instance, imperialist barbarism, redoubled by putting into effect military control of the planet by the armed forces of the United States and their subaltern European allies of NATO to the sole profit of the monopolies of the collective imperialism of the triad United States–Europe–Japan. But also in response to this the sliding of the responses of their victims—the peoples of the South—toward backward-looking illusions which themselves are pregnant with barbarity.

That risk, which at present is the dominant reality, will not diminish until advances toward the conjunction between the autumn of capitalism and the springtime of peoples—of all the peoples, those both of the peripheries and of the centers—will be decisive enough to open the universalist socialist perspective. Will the twenty-first century be a “remake” of the twentieth, with the liberation attempts of the peoples of the South coinciding with maintenance of the pro-imperialist alignment of the peoples of the North?

To Build Unity Within Recognition of Diversity

There is no possible revolutionary advance of the movement toward socialism without construction of strategic unity of action linking together the needed critical mass of diverse social forces in conflict with the dominant capitalist system. It yet remains to identify correctly the nature of the social diversity at issue: distinguishing between those differences that count more and those that count less. The sources and forms of diversity are themselves innumerable. To describe them would take many pages of statistical tables: there are the men and the women, the young and the old, the natives and the immigrants, in some countries the human beings with different shades of skin color, those belonging to this or that religion or linguistic group, those who own property and those who do not, skilled and unskilled workers, etc.

A non-simplifying class analysis permits deeper comprehension of the problems. At bottom, there is certainly in capitalism the contrast between the bourgeois (owners of the means of production and/or the managers of that property) and the proletarians (who have only their labor power to sell). But this contrast is expressed through a great diversity in the spectrum of concrete social situations. There are wage-earners (sellers of labor power) whose possession of unusual skills lets them benefit from a certain degree of stability, and there are those relegated to permanent instability. There are the capitalists—owners—small, medium, or large-scale entrepreneurs, and there are the managing executives of the big capital of the financialized monopolies, etc.

This great differentiation of the basic classes is likewise extremely varied depending on whether the society in question is that of a dominant capitalist/imperialist country or that of a dominated peripheral capitalism. The social situation of a proletarian in an opulent country is different from that of his alter ego in a poor society. The rural and peasant mass, reduced to numerical insignificance in today’s centers, remains a strong presence in the peripheries, etc.

There is certainly a weighty tendency toward simplification of social structures resulting from the logic of capital accumulation (concentration of property and/or concentration of control) but there are several false notions about the simplification of social structure resulting from capitalism: (1) the idea that the bourgeois/proletarian contrast would wipe out expression of the presence of other social forces from the field of politics; (2) the idea that the bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and the proletariat, on the other, would become homogeneous camps with little internal differentiation; (3) the idea that the globalized expansion of capitalism would bring closer together the social structures of the advanced countries and those of the backward countries pursuing the path of “catching up” (“developing,” as they say).

Let us take, for example, the expansion of industrial capitalism in nineteenth-century Europe. In no country of that continent did the bourgeoisie, the new dominant class, wipe out the aristocratic classes from the ancien régime. Everywhere it reached political compromises with them that preserved their control over important segments of the power-structure (like the officer corps). And though the 1914 war was an inter-imperialist war, it was also a war belonging to the crowned heads of Europe; until the entry of the United States, France was the only republic at war.

The bourgeoisie is not a class composed of all those with formal ownership of the means of production. That property could, once limited-liability corporations had been invented, be spread around even though control over it was not. The bourgeoisie is not a homogeneous class organized as a pyramid of wealth rising from small, through middle, to great capitalists. An integral part of it is provided by segments of the middle classes (middle as measured by quantity of income formally derived from wage labor) involved in economic and political management of society. The bourgeoisie is likewise differentiated by business-sector positioning and/or location in advancing or declining regions, etc.

In the peripheries the bourgeoisie is not simply a late-born bourgeoisie growing up comfortably, living a lavish, if even more parasitic, lifestyle akin to that of its counterparts in the center. No more is it divided into two segments, one compradore (bad bourgeoisie) the other national (good bourgeoisie). Having entered the world within the framework of the worldwide expansion of imperialism, the bourgeoisie of the periphery is compradore by nature. Nevertheless, it might behave like a national bourgeoisie when the circumstances offer it some room for maneuver. I insist on the importance of this Maoist interpretation about the nature of the bourgeoisies of the periphery.

The structure of the classes making up a people in the countries of the periphery is likewise very different from that in the centers. The peasant classes in the South are themselves differently differentiated from one country to the other, with structurings partly inherited from specific precapitalist pasts—and themselves reshaped in turn by the particular ways in which they were integrated/subordinated into modern capitalism. The pauperization processes resulting from global capitalist accumulation have created there, in the peripheries, a growing mass of the dispossessed who survive only through “informal” economic activity.

Under the deceptive label of “neoliberalism,” during the past three decades weighty tendencies have been at work in the framework of the spread of globalized, financialized, and generalized monopoly capitalism.3 These weighty tendencies have produced: (1) a general, but extremely segmented, proletarianization (80 percent of the population, at least in the centers, comprising waged and salaried sellers of labor power); (2) forms of subordination established everywhere, in the centers as in the peripheries, reducing economic activities seemingly independent of the monopolies (especially those of the peripheries’ peasants but also of their industries) to the de jure or de facto status of subcontractors—thus enabling the transformation of a growing fraction of surplus value into monopoly rents; (3) replacement of historic forms of capitalist organization as embodied in concrete bourgeoisies with a new form of domination by abstract capital (“incarnate in the market,” specifically in the “financial market”). Thenceforward the bourgeoisie had become a class composed of—very well paid!—wage-workers employed by the financial oligarchy (the 1% of Occupy Wall Street and of the Spanish Indignados).

The unfolding of this new structure of generalized-monopoly capitalism did not (and could not) result in relative social stabilization—it resulted in social degradation pregnant with popular revolts. Neither did it (nor could it) result in relative stabilization of the new center/periphery relationships—on the contrary, it resulted in aggravation of the contradictions and conflicts between them. The historic imperialist centers (the United States–Europe–Japan triad) could no longer maintain their global dominance other than through military control over the whole world. In the face of this geostrategic deployment by Washington and its subaltern allies, some “emerging” states and peoples of the South resist by affirming—to various degrees—“sovereign projects,” leading to growing North–South conflicts. In other countries of the periphery the domination system of globalized-monopoly capitalism works through its alliance with compradore state power structures lacking national and popular legitimacy. This is a second motive for revolts of the peoples.

Under our eyes, generalized-monopoly capitalism is imploding in the various forms here recalled. By that very fact a new period of revolutionary situations is opening to us. How are we to act, in these circumstances, to make of the possible a reality: advances of the movement toward socialism? To answer we must take up again our reflection on the relationship: strategic unity of action/diversity of the social and political components of the movement of the peoples.

In the past, revolutionary situations allowed revolutionary advances (towards socialism) whenever concrete responses were given to this unity/diversity dialectical contradiction.

I speak here of dialectical contradiction. In effect, its solution does not proceed through negation of one of its two terms but through the transformation of their contrast into their active complementarity. A metaphysical view of contradiction cannot understand the nature of this challenge and the way to respond to it. Now, that view has often been, and still is, prevalent because it offers easy answers that, according to immediate appearances, might seem to be the only ones possible.

For example: the absolute priority of “unity” (of the people) is affirmed and the real effects of diversity, which make implementation of that unity impossible or pernicious, are denied. Or contrariwise, the unavoidable need for unity (identification of common staged strategic objectives and organization of a united front taking responsibility for their realization) is denied in favor of the affirmation that diverse struggles (those of various fractions of the people in revolt) will all by themselves provide a solution of the problem. The unavoidable question of power is then avoided. This metaphysical response to the contradiction still prevails on the contemporary scene everywhere in the South and the North. It reduces the movements in struggle to maintenance of defensive positions leaving the initiative to the enemy—monopoly capitalism and its state political instruments in North and South. So it is a strategy powerless to push forward the movement toward socialism.

As I have said, in the past correct dialectical responses have sometimes been applied with success. In Russia in 1917, Lenin grasped the way to maximize the power of unity by proposing, to the diverse components of the people in revolt, shared strategic objectives: peace and land. By offering land to the soldier-peasants he founded an alliance that allowed the new Bolshevik party to escape its isolation. For that party, until then, had no real audience among peasants. In China, as early as the 1930s, Mao refounded the Communist Party on the base of a firm and lasting alliance with the poor and exploited peasantry. That is the secret of the 1949 victory. What happened to it afterwards in regard to management of the unity/diversity relationship (i.e., the question of alliances making up the historic coalition of the movement toward socialism) constitutes a different problem, one that I will not take up in this essay.

In both cases there was a concrete response to the challenge. It stemmed from a concrete analysis, which turned out to be right, of what were the diversities: those that are crucial (in the sense that taking them into account enables working the lever of revolutionary advance) and those that were not. In this domain there are no worthwhile general formulae that could be substituted for concrete analysis. The crucial contemporary diversities cannot be the same in France as in the United States, in China as in India, in Peru as in Congo.

Whatever “generality” can be expressed in this connection I have already formulated in my propositions about the necessary “audacity” which alone enables the radical lefts of our epoch to respond properly to the challenge.4 I will sum up the meaning of these propositions in the next two paragraphs:

  1. In the imperialist centers the radical left must dare to advocate the pure and simple expropriation of the monopolies through nationalization/statification (a first stage), together with plans concerning the organization of advances toward the democratic socialization of their management. It is then a matter of identifying the crucial diversities that are to be linked together through constructing a unity of action based on the identification at each stage of their common partial goals.
  2. In the peripheries the radical left must be able to identify the diverse components of a hegemonic social alliance that is an alternative to the one on which the compradore coalition in power finds support. Only if it becomes capable, at each stage, of identifying strategically the common partial goals crucial to the anti-compradore alliance, can it achieve this result.

It is only when these conditions will have been fulfilled that the movement toward socialism can be seen to be affirmed through advances in the real, albeit progressive, transformation of contemporary societies.

Communism, Higher Stage of Human Civilization

Toward a second wave of emergence for the states, peoples, and nations of the peripheries.

The ambition of the movement toward socialism is to refound human society on other foundations than those that are fundamentally characteristic of capitalism. This future is conceived as realizing a higher stage of universal human civilization, not simply as realizing a more “just,” or even more “efficacious,” model of our familiar civilization (“modern” capitalist civilization).

Well, preparation of the future, even of the distant future, begins today. It is good to know what one wants. What social model? Based on what principles: Destructive competition among individuals or affirmation of the benefits of solidarity? A liberty that legitimizes inequality or a liberty tied to equality? Exploitation of the planet’s resources with no concern for the future or an exact accounting of the requirements for reproduction of the planet’s conditions of life?

Socialism will be democratic or it will not exist at all. On condition of understanding the democratization of society as an unending process that cannot be reduced to the formula of electoral multiparty representative as the definition of “real democracy.” The dominant Western media propounds “democracy first” for the countries of the South, which it understands as the immediate holding of multiparty elections; and many civil society organizations in the South have gone over to that proposition. Nevertheless, repeated experiments prove that this is merely a miserable farce which the imperialists and their local allies have no trouble manipulating to their own gain. In the centers, representative electoral democracy had always constituted the effective means for blocking any threats that labor struggles would become radicalized. Class struggles, which unfold on a basis of the extreme diversity of living conditions and segmentation within the laboring classes, articulated in these conditions to electoral settlement of political conflicts, had always been effective means for blocking the radicalization of popular movements. Electoralism (which Lenin called parliamentary cretinism) reinforces the negative effects of the segmentation of classes within the people and deprives of all effectiveness any strategy for building their unity. Western public opinion, alas, envisages no alternative to this system of political management, to which even the Communists have now gone over. Nevertheless, with the establishment of generalized-monopoly capitalism the electoral farce becomes totally visible, effacing the former right/left contrast.

The movement toward socialism has the duty of opening new fields for the invention of more advanced ways to manage political democracy.

John Bellamy Foster has argued convincingly that socialism, as understood by Marx, is ecological by its very nature. I add that green capitalism is still an impossible utopia because respect for the requirements of a political environmentalism worthy of the name is incompatible with respect for the basic laws governing capitalist accumulation. Here also the movement toward socialism has the duty of opening new fields for the invention of procedures of economic management that integrate the long run, that link democratic socialization of social relationships to the requirements for reproduction of life-spaces on the planet, which, in its turn, is the condition for transmitting the heritage of these common properties from one generation to another.

In its answers to these questions, the movement toward socialism cannot restrict itself to expressing pious vows, to propounding a remake of the nineteenth century’s utopian socialisms. To avoid that fate it must answer the following questions: (1) Today, what is our scientific knowledge in the fields of anthropology and sociology that calls into question the “utopias” formulated in the past? (2) What is our new scientific knowledge about reproduction conditions of life on the planet? (3) Can this knowledge be integrated into an open Marxist thought?

In this general framework, we must give full treatment to the emergence projects of the states and peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The first wave of emergings, which extended successfully between 1950 and 1980, is exhausted. That page having been turned, the imperialist powers were able to retake the initiative and to impose the “diktat” (and not the supposed “consensus”) of Washington. In its turn, this project of wildcat globalization is in implosion, offering to the peoples of the peripheries a chance to undertake a second wave of liberation and progress. What might be the goals of that second wave? There is a confrontation here among different political and cultural visions (reactionary, or illusory, or progressive) whose likelihoods will need to be studied.

To Exit From the Framework of Established Globalization

Within the framework of the established globalization model, there is no space available for the movement toward socialism to begin its deployment onto the field of reality. So it has to write into its program both immediate and more distant strategic objectives that allow an exit from that framework. If not, there will be no exit from the model of “lumpen development” based on subcontracting and resource pillage, resulting in an indescribable pauperization of all the countries that accept their submission to the extension requirements of liberal globalization.

One often hears: “The problem is worldwide; its solution must be worldwide.” The first proposition is correct, but the second does not flow from it. A transformation of globalization from above, for example by international negotiations in a UN framework, has absolutely no chance of permitting even the least progress. The long series of UN international conferences, from which nothing (as was foreseeable) has ever emerged, is evidence of that. The global system has never been transformed from above, but always starting from below, i.e., from initial changes of the line of development that at first became possible at local levels (or else national levels, in the framework of states/nations, which are the centers of crucial political struggles). Then conditions might eventually be formed to open possibilities for transformation of globalized relationships. Deconstruction must always be preliminary to the possibility of reconstructing differently. The example of Europe in crisis is testimony to that. The European structures will never undergo transformation from above by Brussels. Only disobedience by some European state, and then by another one, would make it possible to envisage the reconstruction of “another Europe.”

The strategy of starting transformations by action at national levels can be summed up in the following sentence: one must refuse to adjust unilaterally to the requirements for extension of the established globalization, replace it by prioritizing getting to work on “sovereign projects,” and force the global system to adjust to the requirements for the unfolding of these national projects.

But what then is meant by “sovereign projects”?

In certain conditions, getting to work on sovereign projects opens a space for advances of the movement toward socialism. Of course, the very notion of “sovereign project” is open to discussion. Given the degree of penetration of transnational investments in all domains and all countries we cannot avoid the question: What sort of sovereignty are you talking about?

The dynamics of contemporary capitalism are in many ways determined by the global conflict over natural resources. The matter is a special question whose examination is not to be drowned in other general considerations. The United State’s dependence for many of those resources and the growing demand from China are a challenge to South America, Africa, and the Middle East, which are particularly well endowed with resources and have been shaped by the history of their pillage. Can one develop, in these domains, national and regional policies that initiate rational and equitable planetary management, benefitting all the peoples? Can one develop, written into that perspective, new relationships between China and the countries of the South at issue? Will they link China’s access to those resources to support for the industrialization of the countries involved (something the supposed “donors” of the OECD refuse to do)?

The framework for the unfolding of an effective sovereign project is not limited to the field of international action. An independent national policy remains fragile and vulnerable so long as it does not enjoy real national and popular support, which requires that it be based on economic and social policies enabling the popular classes to benefit from “development.” Social stability, which is the condition for success of a sovereign project confronted by the destabilization policies of the imperialists, is at that price. We therefore have to examine the nature of the relationships among different established or possible sovereign projects and the bases of the power systems: national, democratic, and popular project, or (illusory?) project for national capitalism?

We can then, in this framework, draw up the “balance sheet” of the “sovereign projects” currently being put into effect by the “emerging” countries.

(1) China is the only country truly engaged on the path of a sovereign project, and is the only one for which this is the case. This is a coherent project: it articulates the planned establishment of a self-centered (although simultaneously and aggressively open toward exporting) modern and complete industrial system to a mode of agricultural development based on the modernization of small farms not owned by the farmers—thus guaranteeing access to the land for everyone. But what is the nature of the objective of sovereignty being pursued? Is it a matter of national bourgeois sovereignty (whose success, in my opinion, remains based on illusions), or of national/popular sovereignty? Is it a matter of a state capitalism based on the illusion of the governing role of a new national bourgeoisie (part of which is made up of a state bourgeoisie)? Or of a state capitalism with a social dimension, evolving toward a possible “state socialism” that would itself be a stage on the long road to socialism? The answer to that question has not yet been given by the facts. Here I refer the reader to my argument about the future alternatives on offer to contemporary China.5

(2) Russia has returned to the international political stage, posing itself as the adversary of Washington. For all that, is it engaged on the path of a sovereign project? Yes, perhaps, in the intentions of the power-holders to rebuild a state capitalism independent of the diktats of the globalized monopolies? But the economic management of the country remains liberal, controlled by the oligarchy of private monopolies established by Yeltsin on the Western model. This policy, then, remains without any social dimension that would enable it to rally its people behind it.

(3) Elements of a sovereign policy exist in India, notably state-supported industrial policies of private national industrial monopolies. But nothing more than that: its general economic policies remain liberal, tragically speeding up the pauperization of the majority of peasants.

(4) In the same fashion elements of a sovereign policy exist in Brazil, carried out by big private Brazilian financial and industrial capital and big capitalist agricultural estates. But here as in India the general economic policies remain liberal, bringing no solution to the problems of poverty in a country that has become 90 percent urbanized—except that poverty has been lessened through redistributive public welfare measures. In Brazil, as in India, the power-holders’ reluctance to go further favors the ambiguous behavior of big capital, tempted to seek compromises with international capital. The fabulous natural riches of Brazil, and their exploitation under deplorable conditions (destruction of the Amazonian rainforest), further strengthen their efforts to insert the country in the established globalization system.

(5) There exists no sovereign project in South Africa, whose system remains under Anglo-American imperial control. What then are the conditions for emergence of a sovereign project in that country? What new relationships with Africa would be implied by such emergence?

(6) Can non-continent-size countries develop sovereign projects? Within what limits? What forms of regional association might facilitate their advancement?

Where to start?

With regard to the sovereign projects which the movement toward socialism ought to promote, I propose to start by identifying the priorities of action on the economic level and on the political level.

In regard to the economic level:

I suggest identifying the initial priorities with an exit from financial globalization. But take note: this involves only the financial aspect of globalization, not globalization in all its dimensions, notably the commercial ones.

We start from the hypothesis that we are dealing with the weak link of the established globalized neoliberal system. With this in mind we will examine:

  • the question of the dollar as universal money, of its future, taking into account the United States’ increasing foreign indebtedness;
  • questions in relation to the prospective adoption of the principle of “total convertibility” of the yuan, the ruble, and the rupee;6
  • the question of “exit from convertibility” of certain emerging-country currencies (Brazil, South Africa);
  • the measures that might be taken in regard to management of their national currencies by the fragile countries (especially the African ones).

Some initiatives, whose scope, however, remains modest, have been taken towards a deconstruction of the integrated globalized financial system. We here mention the establishment of the Shanghai Conference, the agreements between China and ASEAN, ALBA, the Bank of the South, the “Sucre” project, and the BRICS Bank.

In regard to the political level:

I will suggest prioritizing the implementation of strategies capable of holding in check the geopolitics and geostrategics developed by the United States and its subaltern allies within the triad.

Our starting point is the following: the capitalist monopolies of the historic imperialist (United States, Europe, Japan) powers’ pursuit of worldwide dominion is threatened by growing conflicts between: (1) on the one hand the goals of the triad (to maintain its dominion); and (2) on the other the aspirations of the emerging countries and those of the peoples victimized by and in revolt against “neoliberalism.” In these conditions the United States and its subaltern allies (linked together in “the triad’s collective imperialism”) have chosen to add to their risks by taking recourse to violence and military interventions. Testifying to this are: (a) the deployment and reinforcement of U.S. military bases (Africom and others); (b) military interventions in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, tomorrow Iran?); and (c) measures taken by the triad to encircle China militarily, including Japanese provocations, and manipulations involving China/India and China/Southeast Asia conflicts.

But it appears that, while the violence of imperialist powers’ interventions remains in fact on the agenda, these powers find it ever harder to respond to the requirements for the coherent strategy that is the condition for possible success. Is the United States at bay? Is its decline a passing one, or is it definitive? Washington’s responses, though made in a day-to-day fashion, remain no less dangerously criminal.

In confrontation with these major challenges, what strategies of international political (or even military) alliance might force a withdrawal on the U.S. project of military control over the whole planet? The importance of possible advances on this terrain is obvious. It is not by chance that the BRICS, and behind them many countries of the South—some having to various degrees entered on the path of sovereign projects, others still mired in the ruts of lumpen development—still express refusal to support the U.S. military adventures and dare to take initiatives contradicting Washington (like the use of the veto by Russia and China)? It is necessary to go further in these directions, in a broader and more systematic fashion.


  1. *Editors’ Note: For references to this see Howard B. Davis, Nationalism and Socialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967), 61–63. Davis points out that such comments were confined to Marx and Engels’s earlier works, roughly before 1860.


  1. Teodor Shanin, ed., Late Marx and the Russian Road (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), 97–126.
  2. Samir Amin, Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013), 67–76.
  3. See in particular my discussion of this in The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).
  4. Ibid, 133–47.
  5. See Samir Amin, “China 2013,” Monthly Review 64, no. 10 (March 2013): 14–33.
  6. Samir Amin, “The Chinese Yuan and HSBC Bank,” Pambazuka no. 643, August 13, 2013, http://pambazuka.org/.