Althusser in 1966: Cultural Revolution, Party, State and Conjuncture

The following English translation was recently shared  by Decalages. Originally published (in French) in late 1966 it is a very early analysis of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution based entirely on a close reading of the first official texts. It also suggests Althusser’s understanding of the political stakes involved in his own philosophical work.

"After the first revolutionary seizure of power, during the dictatorship of the proletariat, the party must assume leadership of the state, state power and the state apparatus. In this case, a partial but inevitable fusion will occur between the party and the state apparatus.

In this way, a serious problem is posed, one that Lenin outlined in dramatic terms in the texts from the end of his life (“Purging the Party,” “How Should We Reorganize the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection?”): how do we regulate the relations between the party and the state in order to avoid the pitfalls of bureaucracy and technocracy as well as their serious political effects?

Lenin sought the solution to this problem in an organism: the workers’ and peasants’ Inspection. This organism was an emanation of the party. It was not an organization properly speaking. Much less a mass organization.

The problem posed by Lenin in dramatic terms (he was aware that his solution was beyond the historical forces currently existing in the U.S.S.R.), was answered, forty years later, by the C.C.P. with the C.R."

 

 

On the Cultural Revolution

By Anonymous [attributed to Louis Althusser]

 

 

[The text that follows is the translation of an article that was published unsigned in the November-December 1966 issue of the Cahiers marxistes-léninistes. The journal was founded in the latter part of 1964 by students in the École Normale Supérieure section of the Communist Students Union (UEC), its first issue appearing in December 1964. In December 1966, the journal became the “theoretical and political organ” of the Communist (Marxist-Leninist) Youth Union, a group that formed after a split within the UEC. The journal will, with the November-December 1966 issue, assume an increasingly antagonist position against the “revisionism” of the French Communist Party. The first two issues of the journal published after the split will, in turn, be devoted to “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” In the first of these two issues, the following text appears. It has been subsequently attributed to Louis Althusser. — Jason E. Smith]

Whatever position he or she takes on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, no communist is permitted to simply and automatically “deal with” this matter, with no other form of examination, as a mere fact among others, as one argument among others.

The C.R. is not, first of all, an argument: it is first and foremost an historical fact. It is not one fact among others. It is an unprecedented fact.

It is not an historical fact reducible to its circumstances, it is not a decision taken “in light of” the Chinese Communist Party’s struggle against “modern revisionism” or in response to the political and military encirclement of China. It is an historical fact of great importance and long duration. It is a part of the development of the Chinese Revolution. It represents one of its phases, one of its mutations. It plunges roots into its past, and readies its future. As such, it belongs to the International Communist Movement in the same way the Chinese Revolution does.

It is therefore an historical fact that must be examined for itself, in its independence and depth, without pragmatically reducing it to this or that aspect of the current conjuncture.

It is, moreover, an exceptional historical fact. On the one hand, it has no historical precedent and, on the other hand, it presents an intense theoretical interest.

Marx, Engels and Lenin always proclaimed it was absolutely necessary to give the socialist infrastructure, established by a political revolution, a corresponding—that is, socialist—ideological superstructure. For this to occur, an ideological revolution is necessary, a revolution in the ideology of the masses. This thesis expresses a fundamental principle of Marxist theory.

Lenin was acutely aware of this necessity, and the Bolshevik party made great efforts in this direction. But circumstances did not allow the U.S.S.R. to put a mass ideological revolution on the agenda.

The C.C.P. is the first party to take itself and the masses down this road through the application of new means, the first to put this mass ideological revolution—designated by the expression “C.R.”—on the agenda.

This convergence of a Marxist theoretical thesis that up to this point remained in a theoretical state with a new historical fact which is this thesis’s realization should obviously leave no communist indifferent. This rapprochement cannot but arouse intense interest, both political and theoretical.

Of course, the novelty, originality, and unexpected forms the event has taken are necessarily surprising and disconcerting, raising all sorts of questions. The contrary would be astonishing.

Given these conditions, it is impermissible to come to take a position without a serious examination beforehand. A communist cannot, from the distance where we stand, make pronouncements about the C.R, and therefore judge it, without having analyzed, at least in principle, the political and theoretical credentials of the C.R. based on the original documents he or she has available and in light of Marxist principles.

This means: 1. we must first of all analyze the C.R. as a political fact, which requires considering, together, the following: — the political conjuncture in which it intervenes, — the political objectives it establishes, — the methods and means it acquires and applies. 2. we must then examine this political fact in the light of Marxist theoretical principles (historical materialism, dialectical materialism), asking ourselves whether this political fact is, or is not, in conformity with these theoretical principles. Without this twofold analysis, at once political and theoretical — an analysis we can only briefly schematize here — it is simply not possible for a French communist to judge the C.R.

a. Conjuncture of the Cultural Revolution

The C.C.P. has, in its official declarations, underlined the fundamental political reason for the C.R. (cf. the “16 Points, ” summarized by the C.C., the editorials of the Renmin Ribao).

In socialist countries, after the more or less complete socialist transformation of the property of the means of production, there is still this question that remains: what road is to be taken? Is it necessary to go all the way to the end of the socialist revolution and gradually pass over into communism? Or, to the contrary, stop halfway and go backwards toward capitalism? This question is being posed to us in a particular acute manner. (Editorial of the Renmin Ribao, August 15, 1966).

The C.R. is thus unequivocally presented as a political answer to an extremely precise political question. This question is declared “acute” and “crucial.”

This crucial question is a factual question that is posed to the C.C.P. in a defined political conjuncture.

Which conjuncture?

In its essence, this conjuncture is not, as some commentators believe, a “global” conjuncture, namely the serious conflict provoked by the American aggression against the Liberation Movement of South Vietnam, against the socialist State of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and by the threats leveled at China. The conjuncture that explains the C.R. is in its essence internal to socialism.

But this conjuncture is also not, in its essence, constituted by the “conflict” between the C.C.P. and the C.P.S.U. This “conflict” is, as far as the C.R. is concerned, relatively marginal. The C.R. is, above all, not a “response” to the “conflict,” an argument made by the C.C.P. against the C.P.S.U. The C.R. responds to another fundamental question, of which this conflict is only one aspect or effect.

The conjuncture of the C.R. is constituted by the Chinese socialist Revolution’s current problems of development. The C.C.P. speaks of China when it says: “the question is being posed to us in a particularly acute manner.” In fact, the C.C.P. does not pose this question to other socialist countries, nor does it suggest they undertake their own C.R. But it is also quite clear that the conjuncture of the C.R. is not restricted to the Chinese Revolution’s problems of development alone. Through the Chinese conjuncture, it is the conjuncture of all socialist countries that is at stake. The Chinese conjuncture appears, in fact, as a particular case of the conjuncture of socialist countries in general.

To understand the fundamental, crucial problem that forms the basis of the political conjuncture of the C.R., we have to search for it where this problem gets posed. We must not be mistaken about the conjuncture. We must not search for this problem either in the “global” conjuncture (imperialist aggression) or in the conjuncture of the “C.C.P./C.P.S.U. conflict.” We must search for it in the conjuncture of the Chinese socialist revolution and, more generally, within the internal conjuncture of the socialist countries.

Let’s recall what a socialist country is.

It’s a country where a political socialist revolution has taken place (seizing power in historically different conditions, but leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat), then an economic revolution (socialization of the means of production, establishment of socialist relations of production). A socialist country thus constituted “builds socialism” under the dictatorship of the proletariat and, when the moment comes, prepares for the transition to communism. It is a long, drawn-out process.

Now, in the eyes of the C.C.P., a critical examination of the “positive and negative experiences” of socialist revolutions—their victories and failures, their difficulties, their progress, their degree of advancement (in the U.S.S.R., in the socialist countries of Central Europe, in Yugoslavia, in China, in North Korea, in North Vietnam, in Cuba)—shows that every socialist country has found itself, or finds itself, or will find itself, even once it has “more or less” completed the socialization of the means of production, faced with a crucial problem: that of the two “roads.”

The problem is the following. We are going to state it in the form of questions.

In the different phases of revolutionary transitions that make a social formation of capitalism pass over to socialism then to communism, does there not exist, in each of these phases, an objective risk of “regression”? Isn’t this risk the result of the politics pursued by the revolutionary party, its correctness or falseness; not only its general line, but also the specific ways it is applied? In the way the hierarchy and articulation of objectives is determined and in the objective mechanisms (economic, political, ideological) put into place by this politics? Is there not a logic and a necessity to these mechanisms such that they can cause the socialist country to “regress” “toward capitalism”? Moreover, isn’t this risk exacerbated by the existence of imperialism, by its means (economic, political, military, ideological), by the support it can draw on from certain elements within a socialist country, by occupying some of this country’s voids (cf. ideology), by using its mechanisms to neutralize and utilize it politically, then dominate it economically?

Considering this general risk, and using the terms currently deployed by the Chinese Communist Party, is the future of socialism in a country completely, that is to say, definitively, irreversibly, 100 percent assured based on the mere fact that this country has achieved a twofold revolution, both political and economic? Can it not regress toward capitalism? Don’t we already have an example of such a regression: Yugoslavia? Is it not possible, then, that a socialist country might conserve, even for a long time, the outward form or forms (economic, political) of socialism, all the while giving them a completely different economic, political and ideological content (mechanism of restoration of capitalism), all the while letting itself be progressively neutralized and then used politically and dominated economically by imperialism?

This problem is of a piece with the C.C.P. thesis on the risk that a socialist country might “regress” toward capitalism. It is on the basis of this general thesis that it is possible to say that socialist countries constantly find themselves confronted with an alternative between “two roads.” This alternative can, in certain circumstances, become particularly critical, even today. Two roads, then, open up before the socialist countries, in view of the results obtained in their revolution:

— the revolutionary road, which leads beyond the obtained results, toward the consolidation and development of socialism, then toward the passage to communism;

— the regressive road, which falls back on this side of the obtained results, toward the neutralization then political utilization then economic domination and “digestion” of a socialist country by imperialism: the road of “regression back toward capitalism.”

The alternative between two roads, then, is this: either “stop halfway,” which really means regressing, or do not “stop half-way,” that is, keep moving forward.

In the official Chinese texts, the first road is characterized, in shorthand, as the “capitalist” road (it is a question of “leaders who take the capitalist road”), and the second road is characterized, again in shorthand, as the “revolutionary road.”

Such is the dominant political problem posed by the political conjuncture of the C.R.

For China, the C.R. offers an answer to this question, a solution to this problem. For China: but it is clear that this solution as well as this problem infinitely surpass the Chinese conjuncture both in their import and their effects.

The C.C.P. says: we are at a crossroads. We must choose: either we stop half-way, in which case we in fact, even if we claim the contrary, take the road of regression, the “capitalist road,” or we decide to move forward, we take the necessary steps, and then we head down the “revolutionary road.”

It is precisely at this point in the Chinese conjuncture that the C.R. intervenes.

The C.C.P. declares that in order to reinforce and develop socialism in China, in order to assure its future and protect it in a lasting way from every risk of regression, it must add a third revolution to the prior political and economic revolutions: a mass ideological revolution.

The C.C.P. calls this mass ideological Revolution the proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Its ultimate aim is to transform the ideology of the masses, to replace the feudal, bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology that still permeates the masses of Chinese society with a new ideology of the masses, proletarian and socialist — and in this way to give the socialist economic infrastructure and political superstructure a corresponding ideological superstructure. This ultimate aim defines the distant objective of the C.R. The C.R. can only be a long, drawn-out process.

However, this ultimate aim from this day forward hinges on the essential, dominant problem of the conjuncture: the problem of the crossroads, the problem of the two roads.

The articulation of this aim stands out quite clearly in all of the official Chinese texts establishing the hierarchy of current objectives: “The movement underway takes aim primarily at those who, in the Party, hold leadership positions, and have taken the capitalist road.” It is therefore within the Party, on which everything depends, it is with the Party itself that the C.R. should begin, while at the same time unfolding in all other domains. The C.R. poses, in an immediate and direct way, a question to the leaders, the essential question, the question as to which road they are taking, the road they intend to take: “capitalist road” or “revolutionary road.”

This essential objective unequivocally indicates the central problem to which the C.R. responds.

Of course, the C.R. has, from this point on, other objectives. Just as ideology is present in all practices of a given society, the C.R. bears just as much on the forms of ideology that intervene in economic practices, political practices, pedagogical practices, etc.

In all of these spheres, the C.R. defines near-term objectives, posed with a view to its distant aims. They are all articulated in the final instance in view of solving the essential problem: the problem of the two roads.

 

c) Means and methods of the Cultural Revolution

As for the means and methods of the C.R., they rest on the principle that the C.R. should be a revolution of the masses that transforms the ideology of the masses and is made by the masses themselves.

It is not simply a question of transforming the ideology or reforming the understanding of some intellectuals or a few leaders. It is not even a question of transforming the ideology of the communist Party alone, supposing such a thing were necessary. It is a matter of transforming the ideas, the ways of thinking, the ways of acting, the customs [moeurs] of the masses of the entire country, several hundred million men, peasants, workers and intellectuals.

Now, such a transformation of the ideology of the masses can only be the work of the masses themselves, acting in and through organizations that are mass organizations.

The politics of the C.C.P. consists, then, in making the widest possible appeal and having the greatest confidence in the masses, and in inviting all political leaders to follow, with no hesitation and even with a certain audacity, this “mass line.” It is necessary to let the masses speak, and have confidence in the initiatives of the masses. Errors, inevitable in every movement, will happen: they will be corrected within the movement, the masses will educate themselves in and by acting. But we must avoid at all costs holding back or restraining this movement in advance, under the pretext that errors or excesses are “possible”: this would break the movement. It is also necessary to foresee that there will be resistances, sometimes considerable, to the mass movement: they are normal, since the C.R. is a form of the class struggle. These resistances will come from representatives of the formerly dominant classes and might also come, in certain cases, from poorly-led or poorly-handled masses, and might even come from certain leaders of the Party. It will be necessary to treat all of these cases differentially, distinguishing enemies from friends and, among adversaries, distinguishing among the hostile, irreducible elements, the leaders who are stuck in their ways or confused, those who are hesitant and those who are spineless. In no case, even against the bourgeois class enemy (crimes being punished by law), should one come to “blows” and have recourse to violence, but always to reasoning and persuasion.

The masses can only act in mass organizations. The C.R.’s most original and innovative means are found in the emergence of organizations specific to the C.R., organizations distinct from other organizations of the class struggle (union and party). The organizations specific to the C.R. are organizations of ideological class struggle.

These organizations seem to have been originally brought about as a result of initiatives from the base (creation of circles, study groups, popular committees). Just has Lenin did the Soviets, the C.C.P. recognized their importance, supported them, and extended their example to the entire C.R., among workers, peasants, intellectuals and the youth.

The C.C.P. is very careful to link these new organizations to older ones, these new objectives to older ones. This is why we are constantly reminded that the C.R. is carried out under the direction of the Party, and that the objectives of the C.R. should be constantly combined, both in the factories and the fields, with already defined objectives for “socialist education,” that the student organizations should not intervene in the factories nor in the peasant sectors, where the workers and peasants will carry out the C.R. themselves, that the C.R. should not hinder production, it should assist it, etc.

At the same time, the C.C.P. declares that these are mass youth organizations, principally urban youth, therefore made up for the most part of high school and university students, and that they are currently the vanguard of the movement. It is a factual state of affairs, but its political importance is clear. On the one hand, in fact, the teaching system in place for the education of the youth (we should not forget that school deeply marks men, even during periods of historical mutation), was in China a bastion of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology. On the other hand, the youth, which has not experienced revolutionary struggles and wars, constitutes, in a socialist country, a very delicate matter, a place where the future is in large part played out. The youth is not revolutionary solely by the fact of being born in a socialist country, nor from growing up hearing stories of the exploits of its elders. If, despite all the energies of its age, it finds itself, due to political failings, abandoned to an ideological disarray or “void,” it is then given over to “spontaneous” ideological forms that ceaselessly fill in this “void”: bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideologies, whether inherited from its own national past, or imported from without. These forms find their natural points of support in the positivism, empiricism and “apolitical” technicism of scholars and other specialists. In return, if a socialist country assigns its youth a great revolutionary task and if it educates them for this action, not only will the youth contribute, in the C.R., to the transformation of the existing ideology, it will educate itself and transform its own ideology. It is on the youth that ideology, of whatever sort, has the most impact. The question is that of knowing what ideology should act on the youth of a socialist country. The C.R. responds, in general, to this question. The youth organizations of the C.R. answer it for the youth.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the call for the C.R., the appeal to the masses, the call for the development of the mass organizations of the C.R., its methods, including the conditions of the criticism of leaders who “take the capitalist road,” are made by the Communist Party, which therefore remains the key, central and leading organization of the Chinese Revolution. It should also be noted that the Party established, with the greatest insistence, the theoretical and practical law of the C.R., its supreme law: “Mao Tse-tung Thought,” that is, Marxism-Leninism applied to the existence of the Chinese Revolution and Socialism, Marxism-Leninism enriched by this experience, and expressed in a form directly accessible to the masses.

The C.R. is, therefore, neither the exaltation of the blind “spontaneism” of the masses, nor a political “adventure.” The appeal to the masses, the confidence in the masses, and the creation of mass organizations corresponds to the needs and possibilities of the masses. But at the same time, the C.R. is a considered, deliberate decision undertaken by the Party; it rests on a scientific analysis of the situation, and therefore on the principles of Marxist theory and practice. Similarly, the supreme law of the C.R. is, in the theory as in practice, Marxism-Leninism. Such are the conjuncture, objectives, means and methods of the C.R.

Naturally, this political analysis of the C.R. poses a whole series of theoretical problems.

The C.R. proposes, with its decisions, a number of new political theses: risk of “regression” of a socialist country toward capitalism, continuation of class struggle in a socialist regime after the transformation, more or less, of the relations of production, necessity for a mass ideological revolution and mass organizations specific to this revolution, etc.

Do these new political theses conform to Marxist theory?

a) The central thesis, which poses the most important theoretical problems, is the thesis concerning the possibility of “regressing” from a socialist country toward capitalism. The thesis runs up against many convictions anchored in ideological interpretations of Marxism (religious, evolutionist, economist interpretations).

This thesis is, in fact, unthinkable if Marxism is an essentially religious philosophy of history that guarantees socialism by presenting it as the goal toward which human history has always worked. But Marxism is not a philosophy of history, and socialism is not the “end” of history.

This thesis would also be unthinkable if Marxism were an evolutionism. In an evolutionist interpretation of Marxism, there is a necessary and guaranteed order of modes of production: one cannot, for example, “leap” above a mode of production. This interpretation supplies a guarantee that you are always moving forward, therefore excluding in principle any risk of “regression”: from capitalism we can only proceed toward socialism, and from socialism to communism, not toward capitalism. And when, out of necessity, evolutionism must admit the possibility of “regression,” it thinks that to regress is to return to the older forms from the past, that have remained unchanged in themselves. But Marxism is not an evolutionism. Its conception of the historical dialectic allows for lags [décalages], distortions, regressions without repetition, leaps, etc. In this way, for Marxism, certain countries can “pass on to socialism” without having to “pass through” capitalism. This is why the regression toward a mode of production that has been in principle surpassed is possible (cf. Yugoslavia). But it for this same reason that this regression is not a pure and simple reversion to the past, toward an intact past, toward older forms: it occurs by way of a different process, the insertion of new (formally socialist) forms in a system of the capitalist mode of production, producing an original form of capitalism beneath socialist “appearances.”

The “regression” thesis would, finally, be impossible if Marxism were an economism. In an economist interpretation of Marxism, the abolition of the economic bases of social classes is all that is necessary to confirm the disappearance of social classes, and with them, class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat’s necessity, and therefore the class character of the Party and the State—in order, in other words, to be able to declare that the victory of socialism has been “definitively assured.” But Marxism is not an economism.

b) A social class is not defined, in fact, solely by the positions of its members in the relations of production and therefore by the relations of production: it is also defined, at the same time, by their position in political and ideological relations, which remain class relations long after the socialist transformation of the relations of production.

There is no doubt that the economic (the relations of production) defines a social class in the last instance, but class struggle constitutes a system and is at work at different levels (economic, political, ideological); the transformation of one level does not make the forms of class struggle at the other levels disappear. In this way, class struggle can continue quite virulently at the political level, and above all the ideological level, long after the more or less complete suppression of the economic bases of the property-owning classes in a socialist country.

It is, then, essentially in relation to the forms of political and especially ideological class struggle that social classes are defined: depending on the side they take in political and ideological struggles.

This does not mean that the determination of social classes by the economy is bracketed. In socialist countries, depending on the stages of their history, certain economic relations persist (at least small-scale commodity production, which preoccupied Lenin so much) that constitute an economic basis for the distinction between classes and for class struggle. Also, notable differences in income can serve as economic supports for the distinctions necessary for the survival of a class struggle that is played out primarily elsewhere than in the economic sphere: in the political domain, and above all in the ideological domain.

c) This is the essential point: the “regression” thesis supposes that, in a certain conjuncture in the history of socialist countries, the ideological can become the strategic point at which everything gets decided. It is, then, in the ideological sphere that the crossroads is located. The future depends on the ideological. It is in the ideological class struggle that the fate (progress or regression) of a socialist country is played out.

This thesis concerning the possibility of a dominant role for the ideological in a political conjuncture of the history of the workers’ movement can only run up against economic, evolutionist and mechanistic “Marxists,” that is, those who know nothing about the Marxist dialectic. It is surprising only to those who confuse the principal and secondary contradiction, the principal and secondary aspect of a contradiction, the reversal of primary and secondary contradictions and aspects, etc., in short, those who confuse the determination in the last instance of the economic with the domination of this or that instance (the economic, political or ideological) in this or that mode of production or this or that political conjuncture.

Deciding for, and carrying out, the C.R. amounts therefore to proclaiming two theses:

— 1. In a socialist country, the process of “regression” can begin with the ideological; it is through the ideological that the effect that will progressively touch the political, then the economic sphere, will pass. — 2. It by undertaking a revolution in the ideological sphere, in leading the class struggle in the ideological sphere that it becomes possible to impede or reverse this process and steer a socialist county in the other direction: the “revolutionary road.”

Formally, the first thesis means: once a socialist country has suppressed the economic bases of the old social classes, it might think it has suppressed classes and therefore class struggle. It might think that class struggle has been overcome, even though it continues to play itself out in the political domain and above all in the ideological domain. Not seeing that class struggle can unfold in its purest form [par excellence] in the ideological sphere is to abandon the sphere of the ideological to bourgeois ideology, to abandon the terrain to the adversary. If the adversary is on the battlefield without being identified and treated as an adversary, then it is calling the shots, and we should not be surprised when it takes territory. What can follow is the installation of ideological, political and economic mechanisms leading to the restoration of capitalism. What can follow is the political neutralization, then political utilization, then the economic domination of the socialist country by imperialism. It is, in fact, unthinkable that a socialist country could remain socialist for long if it is indeed based on this contradiction: a socialist infrastructure and a bourgeois ideological superstructure.

The C.R. draws its conclusions from this contradiction: we must undertake a revolution in the ideological in order to give a socialist country furnished with a socialist infrastructure a socialist ideological superstructure.

This thesis is not new. It is constantly recalled in Marx and Lenin. Marx said that for each infrastructure there should be a “corresponding” superstructure of its own, and that in a socialist revolution it is not only the political and economic that should change their bases and forms, but the ideological as well. Lenin spoke openly of the vital necessity of a cultural revolution.

What is new is that this theoretical thesis is today on the agenda of the practical politics of a socialist country. For the first time in the history of the workers’ movement, a socialist country finds it necessary to put this thesis in action, and finds itself capable of doing so.

It is not enough to say that this thesis is, at its core, classical. The practice of its putting into action is something completely new, clarifying in turn this theoretical thesis and the principles on which it is based. It is impossible to undertake a mass ideological revolution without learning something new about both ideology and the masses. We are beginning to see that the C.R. does not simply pose theoretical problems with regard to existing theoretical theses: it directs our attention to the new theoretical knowledges that its practice produces and requires.

d) It is this sense that the C.R. puts into play Marxist principles concerning the nature of the ideological.

Cultural Revolution means, in effect, revolution in the domain of the ideological.

What is the domain of the ideological?

The Marxist theory shows that every society comprises three specific levels, instances, or domains:

— the economic -------------> infrastructure

— the political -------------> superstructure

— the ideological

These “levels” are articulated with each other in a complex manner. It is the economic that is determining in the last instance.

When we use an architectural metaphor (that of a house: infrastructure/superstructure) we say that the ideological represents one of the levels of the superstructure. We do this to indicate its position in the social structure (superstructure and not infrastructure), its relative autonomy with regard to the political and the economic, and at the same time its relations of dependence with regard to the political and the economic.

If, instead, we want to suggest the concrete form of existence of the ideological, it is better to compare it to a “cement” rather than to a floor of a building. The ideological seeps, in fact, into all the rooms of the building: in individuals’ relation to all their practices, to all of their objects, in their relations to science, to technology, to the arts, in their relations to economic practice and political practice, into their “personal” relations, etc. The ideological is what, in a society, distinguishes and cements, whether it be technical or class distinctions.

While the ideological regulates individuals’ “lived” relations to their conditions of existence, to their practices, to their objects, to their classes, to their struggles, to their history and to their world, etc., the ideological is not individual or subjective in nature.

Like all “levels” of society, the ideological is made up of objective social relations. Just as there are social (economic) relations of production, there are also political social relations and “ideological social relations.” This last expression is used by Lenin (in “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are”). It must be taken literally. In order to know the ideological, we must know these social relations and what these relations are made of.

What, in fact, are these relations made of? There are not only made up of systems of ideas-representations, but systems of conducts-behaviors as well; therefore, both “theoretical” and “practical” systems. The ideological includes not only systems of ideas (ideologies in the strict sense), but also systems of practices of conduct-behavior (mores or customs [moeurs]).

Ideas and customs are related dialectically. Depending on the class situation and the conjuncture, there can either be a partial or general identity, or a discrepancy [décalage] or contradiction between ideas and customs. In the ideological struggle, it is very important to recognize the ideas and customs that the party of the ideological adversary incarnates, just as it is very important to know how to make the necessary distinctions between ideas, or between ideas and customs. The great revolutionaries have always known how to make these distinctions and keep what is “good” from the past while rejecting what is “bad,” in the realm of both ideas and customs. Whatever the case may be, an ideological revolution should necessarily be a revolution not only in ideas—or ideologies—but also in practical conducts and behaviors—or customs.

This twofold nature of the ideological allows us to understand that ideological tendencies can be inscribed in certain behaviors and in certain practical conducts as well as in ideas. It allows us to understand that certain “customs” or “work habits” and “leadership habits,” a certain “style” of leadership, can have an ideological signification, and be contrary to the revolutionary ideology, even when they are the actions taken by socialist leaders. Bourgeois ideology can therefore find support in certain practices, that is, in certain political, technicist, bureaucratic, etc., customs of socialist leaders. If these “work habits” and “leadership habits” multiply, they are no longer personal “quirks” or foibles: they can be or become signs of social distinction, a taking of sides (unconscious or not) in the ideological class struggle. For example, the bureaucratic or technocratic behavior of leaders, whether they be economic, political or military leaders, can constitute so many points of support, within the ideological domain of a socialist country, for the ideological offensive of the bourgeoisie.

If the C.R. takes this threat seriously, it is because it is in conformity with the Marxist theory of ideology. But at the same time, by taking it seriously, it is obliged to deepen this theory, and therefore to take it further.

e) Finally, the C.R. puts into play the principles of Marxism with regard to its forms of organizations.

The thesis of the C.C.P. in fact supposes that there are mass organizations specific to the C.R., and therefore that these organizations are distinct from the Party.

What clearly poses a problem, for many communists, is the existence of these new organizations that are distinct from the Party.

The question of the organizations of class struggle, and their distinction, is an old question of the workers’ movement.

It was settled by Marx, Engels and Lenin insofar as it was a matter of the organization of economic class struggle (the union) and the organization of political and ideological class struggle (the party). This functional distinction corresponded to a distinction in terms of form. The union was a mass organization (without democratic centralism). The Party was a vanguard organization (with democratic centralism).

Up to this point, the Party has been responsible for both the political struggle and the ideological struggle. The C.R. adds this astonishing innovation, creating a new, third type of organization: an organization specific to the ideological mass struggle. It is no doubt called upon to apply the decisions of the Party. But it is distinct from it. Moreover, this type of organization distinguishes itself from the Party insofar as it is, like unions, a mass organization (it is not governed by democratic centralism: it is said that the leaders of the organizations of the C.R. should be elected “like the deputies of the Paris Commune”).

But is this astonishing innovation in conformity with the theoretical principles of Marxism?

Formally, it can be said that the distinction between organizations reflects the distinction between instances or levels of social reality. A mass organization for the economic level (union); an avant-garde organization for the political level (the Party); and a mass organization for the ideological level (the organizations of the C.R.).

But perhaps we need to go further and ask why this third type of organization, which did not exist before, and which Marx and Lenin did not anticipate, is from here on out indispensable in a socialist country.

We can suggest, prudently but not without reason, that the answer to this question can be found in the change in position of both the party and union with regard to the State in a socialist regime.

After the first revolutionary seizure of power, during the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Party must assume leadership of the State, State power and the State apparatus. In this case, a partial but inevitable fusion will occur between the Party and the State apparatus.

In this way, a serious problem is posed, one that Lenin outlined in dramatic terms in the texts from the end of his life (“Purging the Party,” “How Should We Reorganize the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection?”): how do we regulate the relations between the Party and the State in order to avoid the pitfalls of bureaucracy and technocracy as well as their serious political effects?

Lenin sought the solution to this problem in an organism: the workers’ and peasants’ Inspection. This organism was an emanation of the Party. It was not an organization properly speaking. Much less a mass organization.

The problem posed by Lenin in dramatic terms (he was aware that his solution was beyond the historical forces currently existing in the U.S.S.R.), was answered, forty years later, by the C.C.P. with the C.R.

It answers this question by establishing not a organism for monitoring the relations between Party and State, but by establishing a mass movement and mass organization whose “principal” task today consists, in the C.R., in identifying and criticizing leaders who cut themselves off from the masses, who behave in a bureaucratic or technocratic manner, who by their ideas or their “customs,” habits of life, work and leadership, abandon the “revolutionary road” and “take the capitalist road.”

The C.R. adds a completely new solution to the problem posed by Lenin. The third type of organization, responsible for the third revolution, must be distinct from the Party (in both its existence and its organization form) in order to oblige the Party to distinguish itself from the State, in a period during which it is in part forced, and in part tempted, to merge with the State.

If these analyses are, despite their schematic nature, correct in principle, it is clear that the C.R. is of interest, directly or indirectly, to all communists.

The great political and theoretical interest of the C.R. is that it constitutes a solemn reminder of the Marxist conception of class struggle and revolution. The question of socialist revolution is not definitively settled by the seizure of power and the socialization of the means of production. Class struggle continues under socialism, in a world shadowed by the threats of imperialism. It is then above all in the ideological sphere that class struggle decides the fate of socialism: progress or regression, revolutionary road or capitalist road.

The great lessons of the C.R. go beyond both China and the other socialist countries. They are of interest to the entire international communist movement.

They remind us that Marxism is neither a religion of history, nor an evolutionism, nor an economism. They remind us that the domain of the ideological is one of the fields of class struggle, and that it can become the strategic place where, under certain circumstances, the fate of the struggle between classes is played out.

They remind us that there is an extremely close link between the theoretical conception of Marxism and the ideological class struggle. They remind us that every great revolution can only be the work of the masses, and that the role of revolutionary leaders, while giving the masses the means to orient and organize themselves, while giving them Marxism-Leninism as compass and law, is to attend the school of the masses, in order to help them express their will and solve their problems. It is not a matter of exporting the C.R. It belongs to the Chinese Revolution. But its theoretical and philosophical lessons belong to all communists. Communists should borrow these lessons from the C.R., and benefit from them.

— translated by Jason E. Smith

People in this conversation

  • I am in the middle of reading Gregory Elliot's "Althusser: The Detour of Theory," which I have found very helpful in getting a complete picture of Althusser's project. (See http://www.amazon.com/Althusser-Detour-Theory-Historical-Materialism/dp/1608460274 ) He discusses this piece and I was pleased to see that it is now available in English. Althusser apparently wrote it anonymously for the student group that split off from French Communist Party while himself remaining within the party which is interesting in its own right.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    I find this passage on how to grasp the place of ideology within the social totality particularly interesting:

    "When we use an architectural metaphor (that of a house: infrastructure/superstructure) we say that the ideological represents one of the levels of the superstructure. We do this to indicate its position in the social structure (superstructure and not infrastructure), its relative autonomy with regard to the political and the economic, and at the same time its relations of dependence with regard to the political and the economic.

    If, instead, we want to suggest the concrete form of existence of the ideological, it is better to compare it to a “cement” rather than to a floor of a building. The ideological seeps, in fact, into all the rooms of the building: in individuals’ relation to all their practices, to all of their objects, in their relations to science, to technology, to the arts, in their relations to economic practice and political practice, into their “personal” relations, etc. The ideological is what, in a society, distinguishes and cements, whether it be technical or class distinctions."

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    And this clip below too, is fascinating...Namely for how it examines possibility for contradictions between practices and ideas within the realm of the ideological...This seems considerably more open and dialectical than Althusser's much better known treatment of the relationship between custom and ideas, (or rituals and belief) in his classic "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Essay.

    "Like all “levels” of society, the ideological is made up of objective social relations. Just as there are social (economic) relations of production, there are also political social relations and “ideological social relations.” This last expression is used by Lenin (in “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are”). It must be taken literally. In order to know the ideological, we must know these social relations and what these relations are made of.

    What, in fact, are these relations made of? There are not only made up of systems of ideas-representations, but systems of conducts-behaviors as well; therefore, both “theoretical” and “practical” systems. The ideological includes not only systems of ideas (ideologies in the strict sense), but also systems of practices of conduct-behavior (mores or customs [moeurs]).

    Ideas and customs are related dialectically. Depending on the class situation and the conjuncture, there can either be a partial or general identity, or a discrepancy [décalage] or contradiction between ideas and customs. In the ideological struggle, it is very important to recognize the ideas and customs that the party of the ideological adversary incarnates, just as it is very important to know how to make the necessary distinctions between ideas, or between ideas and customs. The great revolutionaries have always known how to make these distinctions and keep what is “good” from the past while rejecting what is “bad,” in the realm of both ideas and customs. Whatever the case may be, an ideological revolution should necessarily be a revolution not only in ideas—or ideologies—but also in practical conducts and behaviors—or customs."

  • It is an extraordinary essay for the way it states so much more clearly ideas that are presented much more obliquely in his other more strictly philosophical writings. The political self-censorship Althusser engaged in to remain within the French Communist Party produced a cryptic sort of writing (in some ways not dissimilar in this respect from Gramsci's prison writings written to pass the scrutiny of fascist censors) that has sadly been emulated by many not constrained in this particular manner.

  • Althusser argues here that the Cultural Revolution was an answer to the problem posed by Lenin: "how do we regulate the relations between the party and the state in order to avoid the pitfalls of bureaucracy and technocracy as well as their serious political effects?"

    The question that confronts us now almost half a century later is whether it was an adequate answer and, if not, what would be. This is the question on the table in Nepal as the Maoists there struggle to create a "new mainstream" within which distinct parties and lines can contend for the allegiances of the people while, should they succeed, guarding against capitalist restoration.

  • Guest - TOR

    I think we can all agree that the only way to guard against capitalist restoration is the education of the masses and their continued involvement in political and ideological struggle in a workers' state to lead it toward socialism and communism. For this, the main thing that is necessary is something that didn't exist in China, which is workers' control over the means of production, and not just the control of bureaucrats from the state, regardless of how communist they are or how much they come down from their offices and administrative work to actually work with and talk with the workers. The workers in a factory need to be able to democratically determine how they will meet production targets that come from the central planning committee of the workers' state and to also interact with this planning committee in a dialectical fashion that allows for the setting of targets to be geared to what an actual factory or production unit is able to achieve, rather than the workers just passively following whatever the workers' state sets out for them and relating to their work in much the same way that they would under capitalism.

    This is an issue that Althusser and many other theorists, as well as revolutionaries, unfortunately ignore. Also, as I said earlier, Mao's ideas about the managers coming down to occasionally work with and talk with the workers isn't good enough if the manager isn't even elected by the workers and if the workers aren't able to play a direct role in at least deciding how they will meet targets and conduct their work.

    The workers progressively gaining control over material production is what will ensure that they can not be infected with bourgeois ideology and that they will not allow the bureaucrats they elect to be infected by it either or to act on it if they do hold these views. From what I can tell, the CR was way too idealist in its philosophical outlook, which is one of the main reasons why it failed. However, I also believe it was partially designed to fail, as a purely materialist outlook on this issue, such as the one I outline here, would threaten the position of all bureaucrats, and not just the capitalist roaders, which is something neither Mao nor anyone else in the upper ranks of the CPC was willing to do.

    Basically, from where I stand, Mao was a left-wing bureaucrat who wanted to fight against the right-wing of the bureaucracy by mobilizing the masses against these elements in the party and the state. Of course, the CR went much further than this due to the mobilization of the masses, and got far beyond the control of Mao or anyone in the party. Really, all Mao wanted to do was to eliminate the right-wing of the bureaucracy so that the left-wing, which he was in, could rule. As to why Mao was on the left, I think there was something genuine about his belief in socialism and the need for the class struggle to continue under it to move towards communism, though his vision of what socialism is and what the class struggle under socialism should look like does not at all agree with mine.

  • TOR,

    Your position is very similar to that of Simon Leys, though slightly more charitable to Mao. While I think workers power at the point of production is important there is a tendency on the libertarian left to fetishize it. It is fine to say that production goals should be set through a dialectical process, it is quite another to specify what such a process would be and to actually implement it.

    The absence of mechanisms of workers control was not just a subjective failing of Mao or the CCP, it was a reflection of the embryonic development of Chinese industry in which factories were being filled with newly proletarianized workers in a still overwhelmingly agrarian society. One might set up formal mechanisms of workers power but such measures would likely prove hollow given the objective level of development of class consciousness. Ultimately such forms must be conquests of struggle. When they did arise in the form of the Shanghai Commune, of course they were suppressed. But again their quick suppression is a measure of the objective strength and political capacities of the class.

    In an important sense it was this situation, and not as Althusser suggests here the completed socialization of the means of production, that concentrated the struggle on ideological questions. It is also probably why the GPCR proved self-limiting.

  • Guest - nando

    It is not just a problem of mechanism or consciousness:

    Socialist production needs to be organized to serve the needs of the people of the whole society (and humanity worldwide). This simply will not emerge if social production decisions are an aggregate of low level factory considerations.

    Who is going to decide the carbon footprint of a socialist energy industry? The plantfloor commities of the oil refineries? The offshore platform workers assembly? The solar panel workers planning committee?

    No, it has to be a social process of planning and summation -- and its key criteria are political (i.e. long term strategic consideration of interest and necessity), not process (i.e. let the workers at the plant floor decide).

    If you have the locus of decisionmaking inside each workplace -- society will break up into a market system, and the only connection between those workplaces will be the law of value (and so no matter who "decides" in the factory, their decisions will be framed by capitalism, and they will be forced to "decide" to lay each other off, or advertise "their" products in competition with the products of others, and so on.)

    Similarly, there are many issues of production that are not simply decidable by workplace democracy. How much money and labor goes into securing the roof of a new factory? Should the workers "just decide" and not let themselves be patronized or pushed around by engineer intellectuals? And who should ultimately decide this? The workers who are in charge of building that roof? Or an inspectorate charged by the socialist state with maintaining standards and generalizing experience? Or the larger workers assembly in that factory complex? And on what basis do they decide?

    Or another example: what portion of the productive wealth of an enterprise goes into wages, and waht portion goes into reinvestment? How much is social wage, and how much is private paychecks? How much should go toward the surrounding community (transport? restaurants? parking? pollution control? water processing?) Who decides that? The workers inside that plant? The surrounding community? The lareger society?

    And if the conditions of workers (wages, for example) vary wildly in industry (because, for example, some workers just decided to pour the maximum into payouts), what happens to the flow of labor within the society? Do you suddenly have a market in labor power? How much do individual workers move to take advantage of those inequalities? Do the more skilled secure the jobs in the more highly paid plants? And what emerges from all of that (which on the surface was "democratic" and factory floor decisionmaking -- but in practice brings market relations into once socialist society.)

  • I couldn't agree more. This discussion reminds me of a critique of anarchism that the RCP put out around 1997 that basically made this argument but spelled it out even further. I sat down at the time to write a refutation, but as I tried I found the arguments increasingly compelling and basically came to the conclusion that the anarchist vision, on this point at least, was fundamentally flawed. There are important reasons to develop things like workplace and community assemblies, not least of which is that they school people in politics at a level that is more accessible. But the fact remains that there are lots of questions of the sort noted here that can only be fairly dealt with on a broader, sometimes even a global basis. Assume, for example that after the revolution we decide that we still need to build a certain number of big passenger jets. Where we decide to build them is really a question that can't just be made by the factory committees that seized control of Boeing or Airbus.

  • Guest - TOR

    I do not consider myself to be a libertarian communist and am firmly against all forms of anarchism. I even explicitly stated that central planning was necessary. This does not mean that the party/state bureaucracy in China shouldn't or couldn't have been brought under the control of the workers in the sense Lenin described in The State and Revolution, as I believe that the objective conditions for this were actually there and that China did have a fairly well-developed working class and workers' movement by the 1960s, especially in Shanghai. To call The State and Revolution unrealistic utopianism is to call the whole socialist project into question and to instead believe in a strange sort of vanguard state bureaucracy that supposedly acts in the interests of the masses but really isn't controlled by them in any objective material sense. While I realize that many of the workers were former peasants and that many of them couldn't perform administrative tasks, I am sure that a large enough number could that the model of proletarian state-in-decline that Lenin called for could have been implemented, especially by 1966.

    To refute my position by refuting some kind of anarcho-syndicalist position doesn't make any sense at all. Rather than just the CR organizations being organized like the Paris Commune, the whole state should be organized in this manner from top to bottom. This would mean that workers would have control over how to meet production targets and that there would be a dialectical relationship between the central state planning and the workers in the individual factories, as there would be between the central state planning and the entire society.

    To repeat, anarcho-syndicalism of the kind you guys critique is completely unrealistic for a modern industrial society, though if you really want to refute my position, we will have to look at Lenin's The State and Revolution and whether or not what he calls for is really feasible or whether an intelligent Left bureaucracy that the people have either no or little objective control over is necessary to get a workers' state to a position where we can implement it. This is a question that goes to the very heart of what socialism is and is why I firmly disagree with Avakian's position, which basically supports a Left bureaucracy that is relatively separated from democratic control. In essence, it is democratic control over the state and the means of production that allows a workers' state to avoid capitalist restoration.

    In addition, I firmly agree with Althusser's anti-humanist position and am against the Hegelian Marxism of the left communists, though don't see this as translating into a belief that workers' direct control of production and their relation to their work shouldn't be very different under socialism than it is under capitalism and that the social relations involved shouldn't also be very different. Under socialism, workers should be able to exert as much control over this process as possible at the point of production while still meeting the needs of the broader society for whatever they are manufacturing. I think we can all hopefully agree on that.

    Also, doesn't the suppression of the Shanghai Commune as well as the nature of the attempts to co-opt it into the bureaucratic apparatus speak volumes about the material interests being pursued by the Left bureaucrats in the Chinese party/state? I believe this is an important political question for our movement today and isn't just theoretical/historical.

  • TOR,

    I don't mean to mischaracterize your position. I also believe that it is critical that real forms of workers power at the point of production on up be developed for a socialist revolution to survive. With that in mind I think the suppression of the Shanghai Commune was terrible and yes I think it reveals that bureaucratic capitalist tendencies were not limited to those designated as capitalist roaders. But your certainty that these forms were, as it were, just there for the taking, is I think, mistaken. The Commune State envisioned in "State and Revolution" proved abortive in the Soviet Union, and I would argue that the predominantly peasant nature of the country had a lot to do with that. The objective weakness of China's urban proletariat was even greater at the time of Liberation. To be sure this had changed somewhat by 1967-68, and has obviously changed even more since then, but it is far from clear to me that the Shanghai proletariat was actually prepared to rule through the commune form.

    Organizing the whole state from top to bottom (or bottom to top) along the lines of a commune state can not simply be done by decree. It depends on the actual consciousness and initiative of the class or it becomes a hollow imitation. The Shanghai Commune was an indication of some of that initiative, but I would argue in a still quite embryonic and highly contradictory form. The role of students in detonating the movement, the phenomena of workers aligned with more conservative forces in the party raising the red flag to fight the red flag, the economism -- all suggest that this was not a simple expression of the proletariat unifying around a revolutionary initiative.

  • On Althusser's anti-humanism, which I actually do NOT agree with, I think this has to be located in relation to the counter-revolutionary purposes towards which humanism and Hegelianism were being put within the ICM and the PCF in the wake of the 20th and 22nd Congresses of the CPSU. Elliot's book on Althusser (see above) is helping me understand these debates more clearly, but I am still very much in the process of trying to figure it out, so I really appreciate these exchanges.

  • Guest - nando

    TNL writes:

    <blockquote>"With that in mind I think the suppression of the Shanghai Commune was terrible and yes I think it reveals that bureaucratic capitalist tendencies were not limited to those designated as capitalist roaders."</blockquote>

    Was it suppressed? Was it terrible what happened? Does it show that Mao was one of the sources of bureaucratic capitalist tendencies?

    I mean that as a sincere question -- since it does not correspond to what my understanding of the events was.

    To be brief and somewhat simplistic:

    My understanding is that a major mass movement arose (within the Cultural Revolution that Mao initiated) to actually (finally!) overthrow a very powerful and entrenched party committee (in the city of shanghai).

    This movement involved (from one reading I have found) over 300 distinct mass organizations. And it was waged in support of Mao and his line -- against a party committee that was rather strongly opposed to further revolutionizing of society (and of Shanghai).

    It is worth noting that several of Mao's closest supporters (including Zhang Chunqiao and Wang Hongwen) emerged as leaders from that struggle and were prominent in the events surrounding the january storm (that overthrew the Shanghai party committee).

    Zhang Chunqiao was closely associated with the left communist forces in Shanghai, and his personal mentor had been imprisoned by the Shanghai party committee in the 1950s. And in the late 1950s, Zhang has written a highly controversial article in Liberation magazine entitled “Destroy the Ideas of Bourgeois Legal Ownership” -- which played a role in the early struggle of Maoist forces to push forward a continuing revolution. So that history (of the 1950s in Shanghai) reveals that the conflict that erupted in the January storm were quite long standing and substantive -- and obviously quite antagonistic.

    Mao strongly supported the January storm and the overthrow of the party committee. It was, after all, an actual act of seizing power -- and was viewed at the culmination of a real revolutionary process. And Zhang is often described as the actual leader of the subsequent Shanghai commune -- which was forged out of the complex coalitions of mass organizations in the absence of a functioning party organization. And Wang was the leader of rebel groups emerging from the factories (he was not a long time party figure like Zhang but was quite young and had, reportedly, emerged as a leader while working at a factory.)

    The process and struggle in Shanghai was naturally not any straight forward polarization along obvious or straight forward lines (as TNL points out):

    One of the main issues in contention (at the beginning) was not the FORM of the new state power, but <em>whether to focus on state power at all</em>.

    In revolutinary moments, the move from protest to taking power is always a very difficult rupture. And this was as true in Shanghai as it had been in Petrograd or anywhere else.

    There was a powerful pull (including at the grassroots) to demand higher wages, and to focus on grievances that revolved around conditions, not power. Without dismissing the importance of such grievances -- the fact is that the party committee was quite eager to see the aroused population focus on their conditions, and not on taking power.

    The other issue was the question of whether this is a revolution <em>under the dictatorship of the proletariat</em> -- and specifically whether the people (when rising up) have some need to pay attention to the continuity of production. In other words, when they rose up, were they acting as the rulers of society (and taking responsibility for the continuing production and distribution within socialist society) -- or should they simply use the long term and massive disruption of production (i.e. general strikes) as a weapon against their oppressors (who were still seen as the rulers of society). Interestingly: if the issue is <em>overall</em> power it also means that the workers themselves would take responsibility for continuing (and even improving) production <em>during the revolutionary process</em>. (i.e. the Maoist slogan of "grasp revolution, promote production.")

    In short, from a number of sides (in the question of demands and the question of tactics), the question was posed whether this was a revolutionary struggle for power, or a movement making demands on those entrenched capitalist roaders to whom (in effect) the question of power is still being conceded.

    This points out the deep (epistemological) fact that oppressed people (even when they are in motion, even when they are boldly and bravely engaged in struggle with their oppressors) don't automatically know what the solutions are, or even what the most important issues are. Democracy is a means, a form, of popular decisionmaking (and legitimization of power) -- but a popular vote for a particular course does not automatically mean that it is the best one -- and that underscores the need for layers of political representation and mediations, rather than insisting on forms of <em>direct</em> democratic decisionmaking at all levels and at all times. There are ways in which mass democratic forms (a) can't be maintained outside times of high vigilance and involvement by the people, and (b) may lead to a weakness of the offensive revolutionary forces vis-a-vis their enemies. (I.e.often you need a compact command post, not a slow-moving and bickering mass assembly, to carry through the struggle to victory)

    Mao (and Zhang) fought hard, within that movement, to have the mass organizations focus on power itself (in order to solve problems of local grievances in that context, but also more importantly to solve the central question of the times -- i.e. whether there would be an overall capitalist restoration or not.)

    These struggles came to a head during the three-day Anting incident -- where large numbers of Shanghai workers had left work, and commandeered a train to Beijing to protest the rejection of their demands by the Shanghai party committee. Zhang (famously) intervened in this massive three day debate -- urging a return to the city and a seizure of power, and explaining that the tactics adopted represented (ironically) a struggle that was not yet sufficiently focused on power.

    This was what triggered the seizure of power (with both Mao and Zhang playing major leading roles in the struggle's decisive moments).

    Once the seizure happened there was a debate (among the revolutionaries, i.e. among the actual Maoists) over what form to adopt after the seizure of power from reactionary party committees. It is (it seems to me) a reasonable debate, and even a natural one. The January Storm led to the commune form -- for all kinds of reasons. And it was a debate in which Zhang and Mao were very much acting from the <em>inside</em> of the movement, as crucial leaders, as people seen by the mass organizations and the workers as their leaders.


    The Shanghai commune was declared a month after the seizure, and Zhang Chunqiao was its main leader.

    And in the debate that followed, it was argued (and it was in practice revealed) how unstable and weak a form such a commune is. The argument of the Maoists was that there needed to be a stronger form -- a regroupment of a new party apparatus on a new basis, because (in some very basic way) the successful conducting of the class struggle <em>required</em> a much more compact leadership core and structure than the extreme looseness of a commune could provide.
    Why is that so wrong? Isn't such a debate quite natural and necessary? Why is it wrong for leaders like Mao and Zhang to speak out (advocating a different form, that became known as the three-in-one committee, a form that in its own way was quite radical in incorporating voices and experiences from below in the decision-making process)?

    The debate became a real struggle (reflecting the larger differences between the "overthrow all" forces and those upholding Mao's approach of "continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat." Is that so surprising? And why (in that emerging conflict) should we view Mao as a "bureaucratic capitalist" force?

    My personal view has always been that Mao seems quite right in this episode, and the forces who rallied around the "overthrow all" line were pushing a truly disasterous course (which would have led to a quick destruction of rebel forces amid generalized chaos). Mao was trying to form a "grand alliance" of older veteran forces and newer rebel forces -- to create "socialist new things" (including radical new forms of power) and a radically reshaped party.

    Again, the very phrase "suppression of the Shanghai commune" seems to read these events through a very mistaken (and somewhat anarchist) set of assumptions. (As if any demand for base democracy is good, and any fight for an organized center is horrific). In fact, the commune form is NOT particularly good for socialist transition -- thought communes and soviets have proven good initiating forms at the high tide of revolution (while the masses are highly engaged and while other more long-term forms of power are being consolidated).

    thoughts?

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    I think tht it would be great to have this essay reprinted as a pamphlet, perhaps with some sort of accompanying essay that reframes it in relationship to current issues facing revolutionaries, in Nepal, but also elsewhere.

  • Nando,

    While I'm not convinced that the commune form could have succeeded it seems to me that the formation of the three-in-one committees marked a pretty decisive end to the power of the mass organizations that were the driving force of the GPCR's radicalism up to that point. The "grand alliance" envisaged by Mao became instead a vehicle for the army (preoccuppied with the maintenance of social peace) to bloc with the party (still riddled with capitalist roaders all over the country outside Shanghai) against the rebel groups, laying the ground, in my view, for the ultimate triumph of the capitalist roaders. Does this make Mao personally a "bureaucratic capitalist"? I don't think so. I think Mao was confronted with an impossible situation, in effect a premature seizure of power that brought things to a head before the revolutionary proletarian forces had the strength to actually lead. But if we want to learn from this important experience I think we need to understand it as the beginning of the end of the GPCR and ask ourselves how it set the stage for the ultimate victory of the capitalist road.

  • Radical Eyes,

    I think it would make a great pamphlet too.

  • Guest - David_D

    Tellnolies said: "While I’m not convinced that the commune form could have succeeded it seems to me that the formation of the three-in-one committees marked a pretty decisive end to the power of the mass organizations that were the driving force of the GPCR’s radicalism up to that point. The 'grand alliance' envisaged by Mao became instead a vehicle for the army (preoccuppied with the maintenance of social peace) to bloc with the party (still riddled with capitalist roaders all over the country outside Shanghai) against the rebel groups, laying the ground, in my view, for the ultimate triumph of the capitalist roaders."

    Was this really the case prior to the elimination of the so-called Lin Biao clique? Didn't the PLA in words and deeds support the left prior to the ninth congress of CPC? The only exception that I can think of is when Zhou Enlai and the foreign ministry revisionists were protected when leftists stepped in to promote what they saw as revolutionary diplomacy.

    After the elimination of Lin Biao and his closest associates, the army did indeed become a vehicle for the right. Deng Xiaoping, once reinstated, was able to create quite a mountain stronghold in the PLA, while Zhang Chunqiao, for instance, was far less successful in using his position as head of the PLA general political department. And, of course, it was the PLA that was the gendarme of the consolidation of power by the right in 1976-1977.

    Two points: Mao was not consistent in his support of the left. He was particularly critical of Jiang Qing. And, it does appear that she was capricious at times (the story line seems to be that the left wanted Jiang as CPC chairman and Zhang Chunqiao as premier - I think the principled but measured Zhang Chunqiao should have been CPC chairman and someone else altogether as premier, outside the "four", such as woman worker Xie Jingyi). In any case, Mao was concerned that the four were isolating themselves. To a degree, that seemed true, although there differences among the four as well. Mao did not support stripping Deng Xiaoping of his party membership, or really endorse the struggle against him as the 11th line struggle of the CPC. Mao had a contradictory outlook on Deng and the "four," wishing in vain for their unity.

    Second, there was no "coup" in 1976. It was consolidation and not the establishment of a revisionist line that already held sway in most places. The left had Shanghai and their models like Xiaojinzhuang, but in most provinces, the revisionists had power. Were there to have been a vote in the central committee, Hua would certainly have defeated Jiang Qing for the chairmanship, and almost certainly would have defeated Zhang Chunqiao as well. The arrest of the four was no more a coup than was the elimination of Lin Biao's group a coup, or for that matter the elimination of much of the 8th central committee during the GPCR prior to the 9th congress.

    I am perhaps straying off point, but this all ties in to the question of what the revolutionary leadership (exclusive of Mao himself, who prevaricated) should have done. Depending on Mao as the "guarantee" was wrong. Even the four played a role in rehabilitating revisionists in the early 70s. What was cast off should have remained so.

  • Guest - nando

    Let me engage a bit with your notes, TNL:

    <blockquote>"While I’m not convinced that the commune form could have succeeded it seems to me that the formation of the three-in-one committees marked a pretty decisive end to the power of the mass organizations that were the driving force of the GPCR’s radicalism up to that point."</blockquote>

    I think that is true. However, I suspect that does not mean that there was no longer "driving force" to the radicalism -- it simply no longer resided in a mass upsurge of that kind.

    And i don't think we should assume that this form (all out mass upsurge shattering the party and its committees) is the only form that radicalism can take under socialism. That form reached a limit, it was no longer "driving" (to put it that way).

    What Mao was trying for was to bring the mass organizations and the healthy parts of the party together for a mass alliance -- that would forge a new revolutionary core to push the revolution forward. Unfortunately, that did not succeed. And it did not succeed (i believe) because the various elements <em>chose not to come together</em> -- the "overthrow all" forces had considerable influence, and <em>specifically</em> opposed future alliances with significant parts of the old apparatus. There were clearly powerful forces within the party and state leadership who had no intention of peacefully allowing "helicopters" from the mass movement to enter into the realms of power. And many parts of the mass movement were determined to fight each other (over substantive and non-substantive issues).

    Mao fought hard to raise their sights and bring broad forces together -- and his statements from that period document that (all his talk about "you are waging class struggle but you don't know where the enemy is...." etc.)

    So, yes, the period of mass upheaval ended. But I don't think that was an error -- it was simply what happened. And there was an element of forcibly <em>ending</em> that period -- by imposing order in areas where the fighting had gotten completely out of control, where there was armed conflict, where the basic operations of life were interrupted for long periods of time etc. Frankly, if the revolution can't function, and society falls apart, someone else (some other force) will pick up those pieces.

    So Mao tried to keep the struggle within certain frameworks (non-antagonistic forms, mass debate, unity-struggle-unity etc.), and he tried to forge a grand alliance of revolutionary (and potentially revolutionary) forces -- all to consolidate the society and the revolution on a new scale.

    That plan did not work. So he shifted to a new plan -- move for a more stable situation, and find other avenues for continuing the revolution, and for consolidating new forms of power.

    the three-in-one committees were part of that (and frankly they were tied to the role of the army, which for a couple years was very important institutionally for holding the society together, in the absence of an coherent party that could hold society together.)

    It is a tragedy of that historical episode that the actually-existing forces (i.e. the people and the cadre) were not conscious enough, or not mature enough, to forge such a grand alliance.

    But it is not the case (i believe) that the mass upsurge (and the mass organizations that were its engine) could just continue, and they were wrongfully suppressed and prevented from continuing to play a positive role. If there had been potential for this mass upsurge to play that role, I'm quite certain Mao would have not switched to more reliance on the army in so much of the country.

    So my understanding is that the emergence of the 3-in-one committees was an attempt by Mao to find a <em>new form</em> of power (a "socialist new thing"), at a point where the mass organizations and the commune form had shown their weakness. He was fighting to press ahead in the face of serious setbacks. (I.e. he did not want to go back to the old ways with the old party, and he did not simply want to rely on the army's intervention without creating new locally based power forms that <em>drew in the best elements of the old party and the mass organizations</em>. In other words, the 3-in-one committees <em>continued</em> mao's efforts to have large numbers of cadre and major parts of the new rev forces <em>combined</em> in diverse new formations at all levels.

    <blockquote>"The “grand alliance” envisaged by Mao became instead a vehicle for the army (preoccuppied with the maintenance of social peace) to bloc with the party (still riddled with capitalist roaders all over the country outside Shanghai) against the rebel groups, laying the ground, in my view, for the ultimate triumph of the capitalist roaders."</blockquote>

    My view is different. It was the failure of the diverse forces to form a grand alliance that "laid the ground" for ultimate restoration -- not Mao's creative attempts to press ahead anyway. The usurpation of large parts of the party and state were simply not <em>successfully</em> countered by the creation of new, militant, concsious, and <em>unified</em> revolutinary headquarters. the enemy was rather tightly organized around its various headquarters -- and the revolutionary left was less successful. this was objective -- and happened despite the best efforts of the left's leaders.

    It is true that after the setbacks the left was forced into a series of alliances (first with Lin's circle controlling much of the military, then after 1971 with Zhou's circle who were bent on bringing back the Deng right with great energy). But this weakness, this necessity, was an expressin of the left's inability to build a critical mass for the leaps mao wanted.

    they did "drive ahead" with the GPCR without having the same kinds of mass forms -- and this was particular evidence in 1974, where in so many ways Mao's forces tried to regain initiative (after recovering somewhat from the extremely taxing and debilitating struggle that led to Lin Biao's death.) In many ways, the knocking down of Lin was a body blow to many of the forces of the GPCR, because it represented a tearing of the alliance between the revolutinary left and the PLA forces who had <em>seemed</em> at least to be such important allies. Lin Biao and his allies(Chen Boda etc.) were not (like Liu Shaochi) figures of the "right" -- they had been seen as figures of the left -- and so that struggle (which was over very cardinal matters both domestically and internationally) was a second blow to the mass revolutionary energies.

    Part of my thinking about this has to do with the relationship of "a revolutionary people" and an organized revolutionary core. And how the one arises from the other -- how they are mutually interacting. In this case, the forces for revolution were repeatedly and overall simply weaker and less determined (and less conscious of their goals) than their opponents. that is why they lost. It was not because Mao did this or that, and should have done that or this. If anything, his work and warnings are quite prophetic and visionary (seen in hindsight), and one can only imagine his frustratoin as he was unable to win enough of a core, or broad enough of a spectrum of allies.

    <blockquote>"Does this make Mao personally a “bureaucratic capitalist”? I don’t think so. I think Mao was confronted with an impossible situation, in effect a premature seizure of power that brought things to a head before the revolutionary proletarian forces had the strength to actually lead."</blockquote>

    We agree (not surprisingly) that Mao was not a capitalist roader -- and (what is surprising) is the degree to which many people have bought the verdict that the changes to the Shanghai commune were <em>the</em> moment of reversal -- and that Mao proved (in the final analysis) to be a betrayer of the people and the revolution. this requires an assumption (promoted by Badiou as well) that the target of the revolution was the "party-state" (not the capitalist roaders in high places) -- and that Mao somehow "flinched" when confronted with the objective need to go "all the way."

    I don't think the January storm was premature -- and I'm curious why you hold that view. (What made Mao's position ultimately "impossible" was not the timing of the uprising but the overall weight of opposing forces -- i.e. the material he had to work with, as it revealed itself over time and in the real moments of class struggle.)


    <blockquote>"But if we want to learn from this important experience I think we need to understand it as the beginning of the end of the GPCR and ask ourselves how it set the stage for the ultimate victory of the capitalist road."</blockquote>

    I think it may be that the failure to form the grand alliance (or a series of alliances) was "the beginning of the end" -- but not the decision to move from commune to 3-in-1 (which was, for reasons i've mentioned, a necessary decision to try to snatch victory from defeat.)

  • Guest - nando

    David_D writes:

    <blockquote>"After the elimination of Lin Biao and his closest associates, the army did indeed become a vehicle for the right."</blockquote>

    There was a major struggle of summation after the 1971 events. Zhou Enlai and his forces tried to portray Lin and Chen Boda as the "ultra-left" -- and Mao fought hard for the summation that they were (in fact) a distinct rightist force. The maoists emphasized (correctly i believe) the Confucian authoritarian character of the Lin forces (suggesting the very real threat of a fascist military dictatorship that they, and their ideology, represented.)

    The Lin forces were not a pretty sight, and they fought for a very rigid and militarized society where Marxism was put forward in a quasi-religious way, and where a kind of grim conformity and obediance was to be imposed. There is some discussoin of this in the 9 Letters (specifically in <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/pamphlets/9-letters/letter-8/" rel="nofollow">Letter 8: On the Cult of Personality: Revisiting Chen Boda’s Ghost</a>. Lin Biao and chen Boda had been (obviously) seen as part of the revolutionary left -- they had been in the leading committees of the GPCR (not on the receiving end of those struggles). But if you look at what they represented and argued for -- it is clear that it was quite rightist (not of the left).

    If you are interested I can give a number of sources about this -- but these issues were widely debated in the campaigns that followed (including the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign, that was such an important part of the last struggles.)

    <blockquote>"Deng Xiaoping, once reinstated, was able to create quite a mountain stronghold in the PLA, while Zhang Chunqiao, for instance, was far less successful in using his position as head of the PLA general political department. And, of course, it was the PLA that was the gendarme of the consolidation of power by the right in 1976-1977."</blockquote>

    It is true that the Deng right gained strength in the PLA, and (in the final analysis) Mao's forces did not. Ye Jianying played a key role in this. But not just him. There were also a number of left forces in the military who (when faced with a coup at the center) simply were not prepared to go over to armed revolt and civil war -- and chose to roll back and hope for the wind to blow over.

    <blockquote>Mao was not consistent in his support of the left. He was particularly critical of Jiang Qing. And, it does appear that she was capricious at times (the story line seems to be that the left wanted Jiang as CPC chairman and Zhang Chunqiao as premier – I think the principled but measured Zhang Chunqiao should have been CPC chairman and someone else altogether as premier, outside the “four”, such as woman worker Xie Jingyi). In any case, Mao was concerned that the four were isolating themselves. To a degree, that seemed true, although there differences among the four as well. Mao did not support stripping Deng Xiaoping of his party membership, or really endorse the struggle against him as the 11th line struggle of the CPC. Mao had a contradictory outlook on Deng and the “four,” wishing in vain for their unity."</blockquote>

    We can get into these details -- if there is interest. I think this is a rather confused reading of the events. I think Mao literally <em>was</em> the left, and the Four were his core forces. Mao was also the head of state, not the head of a faction -- and so his actions reflected that contradiction. I am curious to know why anyone might think that Mao's goal was to have "unity" between the Deng Right and the maoist left. this does not jibe with the evidence I have seen.

    the actual fact was that the Four were isolated, and Mao had a good sense (as he slowly declined to death) that his forces were going to lose. And this (again) was a result of material conditions, not simply a result of this or that error. The left was simply not that strong, the middle was not inclined to swing their way, the "revolutionary people" was quite exhausted and confused, and the honest party officials were simply paralized by the protracted struggle and largely "going with the flow" of whoever was on top. It was simply not unfolding in a way conducive for a new advance to power in 1976 (especially <em>without</em> Mao for the first time).

    <blockquote>There was no “coup” in 1976. It was consolidation and not the establishment of a revisionist line that already held sway in most places. The left had Shanghai and their models like Xiaojinzhuang, but in most provinces, the revisionists had power. Were there to have been a vote in the central committee, Hua would certainly have defeated Jiang Qing for the chairmanship, and almost certainly would have defeated Zhang Chunqiao as well. The arrest of the four was no more a coup than was the elimination of Lin Biao’s group a coup, or for that matter the elimination of much of the 8th central committee during the GPCR prior to the 9th congress."</blockquote>

    We can discuss this too. However I find it odd to deny the coup. That coup was (obviously) launched from a considerable position of strength (especially since it became clear that the Hua forces had, in fact, gone over to the right, and were then simply discarded afterwards). the right had many strongholds (in the party and in the army) and those were the basis for a <em>successful</em> coup. but there was in fact a plot, a conspiracy and a striking at their foes. They did act and arrest their opponents -- and snatch overall power away from those who opposed them. If that's not a coup (both coup de main and coup d'etat) what is it?

    I am perhaps straying off point, but this all ties in to the question of what the revolutionary leadership (exclusive of Mao himself, who prevaricated) should have done. Depending on Mao as the “guarantee” was wrong. Even the four played a role in rehabilitating revisionists in the early 70s. What was cast off should have remained so.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Not to *Moderator*: There seems to be an erroneous chunk of David D's post included at the bottom of Nando's most recent post (#19). Perhaps someone could take that out to avoid confusion?

  • Guest - gila monster

    For folks brought up on the version of Chinese events that was put out during the cultural revolution period, I'd recommend checking out some recent scholarship that has changed the historical understanding of that period.

    Li and Perry's "Proletarian Power", about workers' organizations and organizing in Shanghai, is particularly relevant here. I don't think it's possible to square the facts in that book with the idea that "Mao literally <i>was</i> the left", or that the Gang of Four faction was identical to the left. As Li and Perry show, at the time of the January Storm, several truly mass organizations in Shanghai were substantively to the left of the forces identified with Zhang Chunqiao. For example, the Second Regiment was led by Geng Jinzhang and seems to have been numerically the largest group among the Shanghai workers' organizations, with politics that put them squarely to the left of Zhang.

    Those further left forces were the ones which were calling most resolutely for Communes to be set up immediately, from Shanghai up to the national level. Understanding this, we can see why Mao/Zhang created the Shanghai Commune (i.e. as a compromise with the masses and organizations staking out that leftier position) before quickly winding it up (after Geng Jinzhang and some other leading organizers had been imprisoned, and many of the main mass organizations consolidated).

    Of course the fact that Mao and the Gang of Four were not the far left of the movement doesn't mean that therefore they were wrong on this point, nor does it mean that they weren't part of the left. I think it's clear that they were a faction within the left, with their own ideas about how to get to the goals which they shared with the entire left.

    Personally I think that this view of Mao and the Gang of Four as a faction within the left, rather than identifying them as literally being the left, is not only more accurate but also more optimistic. If we can identify the mistakes this faction made while they held power, then we can learn valuable lessons for future struggles. I think the Communal form and a socialist organization more reliant on democracy and direct control by the masses is the great road not taken in the GPCR, and a road which we should hope to walk down one day.

    It might have been disastrous in China (Mao seems to have thought it was very dangerous for security reasons, as well as some more puzzling concerns -- http://tinyurl.com/2c7ypkt), but then again so was everything else that was tried. The left attempted in succession to revolutionize China through the youth and advanced workers (66-67/8), the PLA (67/8-71), and ideological-propaganda campaigns (71-76). All of those attempts failed to develop a revolutionary people who would rise up and fight against a revisionist takeover of the country.

    Finding what Mao and the Gang (and their supporters) did wrong, and identifying what they could have done instead, is a method that can help challenge and develop socialist theory.

  • Guest - David_D

    Nando said: “The maoists emphasized (correctly i believe) the Confucian authoritarian character of the Lin forces (suggesting the very real threat of a fascist military dictatorship that they, and their ideology, represented.) The Lin forces were not a pretty sight, and they fought for a very rigid and militarized society where Marxism was put forward in a quasi-religious way, and where a kind of grim conformity and obediance was to be imposed.”

    I don’t see this. Of course Lin was wrong with all the nonsense about Mao’s single word being weightier than ten thousand sentences or whatever is was… But he was making a point that Mao led the revolutionary headquarters and must be defended resolutely. The PLA was acting to safeguard the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a people’s army under socialism should! It effectively prevented the consolidation of power of the Liu Shaoqi/Deng headquarters and prevented subjugation by Russian and US imperialism. “Long Live the Victory of People’s War” was a glorious document and Lin’s contribution to Mao Zedong Thought/Maoism should not be discounted out of hand.

    On other hand, I am honestly unsure that Lin’s quite revolutionary standpoint could have held out given the balance of forces internationally. I believe he was wrong with stating that we are in the era “complete victory of socialism and imperialism heading toward total defeat,” in tweaking Lenin’s formulation of the “present era.” I think his efforts are analogous to the Paris Commune – they must be upheld but were most likely doomed by the forces of history.

    I believe the left successfully mounted the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign not to really attack Lin, but rather to attack the “Duke of Zhou” (Zhou Enlai) and his allies like Deng. It was a continuance of the smashing of the “four olds” that Lin in fact stood for.

    “There were also a number of left forces in the military who (when faced with a coup at the center) simply were not prepared to go over to armed revolt and civil war — and chose to roll back and hope for the wind to blow over.”

    You’re right. And among them were the likes of Chen Xilian. He was a supporter of the Cultural Revolution, and an opponent of Deng. He opposed Jiang Qing as well. The situation was not at all clear cut between left and right. Ding Sheng was the only commander who opposed the arrest of the four.

    “I am curious to know why anyone might think that Mao’s goal was to have ‘unity’ between the Deng Right and the maoist left. this does not jibe with the evidence I have seen… the actual fact was that the Four were isolated, and Mao had a good sense (as he slowly declined to death) that his forces were going to lose.”

    That is precisely why he wanted “unity.” He didn’t want the leftist core to be smashed to smithereens due to its isolation. The April 5th incident was a defeat for the left, even though Deng was stripped of his posts. It forced the struggle prematurely. Mao wanted to neutralize Deng and with him his faction. Why would Mao have rehabilitated Deng if he wanted there to be no unity with him, albeit a unity not based on Deng’s “self-criticism?”

    “And this (again) was a result of material conditions, not simply a result of this or that error.”

    That is an important point. The material conditions were conducive to the victory of the Chinese bourgeois democrats. But does how does this tie into the question of the relationship between productive forces and relation of production? Was Deng right in some way, that a “primary stage of socialism” (read “new democracy”) was the right path for China given its level of economic development? Is China ruled by the national bourgeoisie at this moment? How does the current CPC line accord with “On Coalition Government?” I am not arguing that China is serving world revolution, but I do think these are questions of interest. Let us recall that for several years after 1949, capitalism continued in China as “patriotic bourgeois” received profits from their enterprises.

    “…the honest party officials were simply paralized by the protracted struggle and largely ‘going with the flow’ of whoever was on top.”

    I don’t think they were “simply” doing anything. It was the manifestation of a definite line that flowed from definite material conditions, such as the pressure of imperialism and economic problems. Why weren’t growth rates higher? How to balance the relationship between economic discipline and political struggle? How to grasp revolution AND promote production in tandem? Was “no production for revisionism” a correct standpoint by the left?

    Please excuse my unorganized comments. They are quickly written and not flowing in the best way. But I think they are at least tangential to important questions of how to consolidate revolutionary state power and defeat restorationist attempts.

  • Guest - r graves

    in comment #9 and elsewhere folks seem to be dispatching a straw man version of anarcho-syndicalism. i don't know of any anarchists that argue for each factory council to decide on its own what to produces; the question of course it how these decisions get coordinated. what do folks think about the system of nested councils and iterative deliberation proposed by the parecon folks and others, rooted partly in the spanish civil war experience? (e.g. http://www.zcommunications.org/anarchist-planning-for-twenty-first-century-economies-a-proposal-by-robin-hahnel)

    are you arguing here that it isn't feasible under war conditions, or that it would never be feasible and there will always be a need for of top level of technocrats runing the economic show?

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Thanks to R Graves for the suggestion that Kasama engage Parecon. I'd like to see a thread on this at some point soon.

  • Guest - jp

    The pareconistas (principles Hahnel and Michael Albert, with Chomsky's blessing)would probably appreciate the opportunity to engage the issue - they have been shut out of 'left' venues like the Nation.

  • Guest - jp

    spelling error above - should be 'principals'

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    I tend to be generally skeptical of detailed blueprints as I don't think the problems involved are primarily technical but rather political. Here are some thoughts though:

    Any multi-level system, whatever structural checks one includes notwithstanding, will have a top level. Who occupies that level, and more importantly still, their politics on the one hand, and the particular structural and technical solutions to the tensions between leadership and democracy that I think are inherent in complex societies on the other, are I believe dialectically inter-related.

    I don't want to be ruled by technocrats, nor do I want to spend my life in endless meetings discussing every single question that touches my life. There is fear of representation and a faith that participation in local planning processes translates into greater participation in discussions of larger scale issues in Hahnel's proposal that I think is misplaced. I think representation is unavoidable and that most critical thing to do is NOT to involve everybody in the minutiae of planning where stoplights go, but to arm them to really understand the bigger questions that representatives will be attempting to answer. It is striking that Hahnel's proposal does not mention the word "politics" once.

    Politics is ultimately key because in the real world major decisions often have to be made in time frames that do not conform to this idealized planning model and authority to make them will accrue to whatever body is positioned to make them, in Hahnel's scheme this being the Iteration Facilitation Board (IFB). If the IFB is constituted by a polity in which everybody spends endless hours planning and revising budgets and making siting decisions it will likely reflect the cramped politics of such a culture. The real point is that there are many roads to technocracy, and it is naive to believe that this or that technical/structural blueprint will prevent one. Whether big decisions should be guided by the concerns commonly attributed to technocrats or to other considerations is fundamentally a political one that will be resolved through a process of struggle not through the adoption of this or that scheme. The trouble with Hahnel's vision is not the particulars of the scheme (though we can pick those apart as well) but rather the understanding of what the problem is.

    One of the reasons the Cultural Revolution is such an important experience to learn from is that these questions came to a head quite concretely in a million ways in the course of those struggles. This is what the whole argument over "red vs. expert" is about.

    Finally there is an oddly impoverished vision of life suggested I think by Hahnel's division of it into work and consumption. The designation of neighborhood-based bodies as "consumer councils" is not merely unfortunate, but I think reflective of real failure to appreciate what a communist transformation of society has to be about.

  • Guest - Avery Ray Colter

    I read Alpert's Parecon paper on Z-net in '08 while attempting to give anarchism a crack at my acquisition of political opinions in the anticapitalist sphere. I came away with the idea that what is being proposed might be a starting point for what "the ultimate goal of communism" might be, but I saw nothing on the site about how to get there from here, how Pareconists would resist what one would expect to be the capitalist propaganda campaign, systematically terrorized votes of people outside Parecon-run base areas to outlaw Parecon, police and military attacks on their base areas, etc, how they hoped to get any such system in place up to the national and global levels without having some sort of protective body which would for all purposes be a state by definition.

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