Psychohistory, ‘Stalinism’, ‘Maoism,’ ‘State Capitalism’–2

Bernard D’Mello

From my reading of the functioning of the Comintern with respect to Comintern–CCP, Comintern–GMD, and CCP–GMD relations, right from the early 1920s onwards, it was the Soviet party-state’s control over the Comintern that was decisive in the determination of the Comintern’s China policy and the implementation of that policy through the CCP’s “United Front from within” with the GMD. Even during the internal struggle within the Bolshevik party of the Soviet Union, and especially in 1926 and 1927 between Stalin and the United Opposition (Trotsky and the Left Opposition and Zinoviev & Kamenev) up to the time of the Fifteenth Bolshevik Party Congress, and after, when Stalin assumed total control and the United Opposition was shattered, it was the party-state’s foreign policy that determined Comintern policy.

Keeping in mind defence against probable imperialist encirclement, the GMD was invited to participate in the Comintern Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, Azerbaijan in September 1920 even though Sun Yat-sen’s sympathies lay with the capitalist world powers and he had no empathy with Marxism. So-called Stalinists did not determine Comintern policy then. So, it was not unusual that the Sixth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern in March 1926 admitted the GMD as a “sympathising party” and Chiang Kai-shek as an “honorary member.” Directed by the leaders of the Soviet party-state, the Comintern leadership intervened to steer the Comintern’s China policy in line with the interests of that party-state.And keeping this imperative in mind, the Comintern determined the CCP’s political tactics and, indeed, determined who would be the “trusted” leaders of the Comintern’s China section and of the CCP.

“Leninist” or “Stalinist,” the Comintern carried out Soviet foreign policy determined by the Soviet party-state leaders, who considered themselves the directors of world communist politics. The Comintern hardly functioned democratically as a communist-internationalist organi-sation. Mao, after he came to the helm in the CCP in 1935–37, following the Zunyi Conference in January 1935, even as he handled Stalin and theComintern’sChina “experts” with as much diplomatic grace he could muster (Mao was hopeless at diplomacy), he did not permit the Comintern to dictate the CCP’s strategy and tactics, and fix its leadership.
Was Mao a “Stalinist”?

For those who continue to “demonize” Mao as a “Stalinist,” it might be worth reminding them, that when he came to the helm in the CCP in 1935–37, he put together a leadership team that included Zhu De, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Peng Dehuai, Deng Xiaoping, Liu Bocheng (a veteran of the PLA, after Zhu, Peng, and Lin), and Chen Yi (aveteran of the PLA after the just mentioned four persons, and China’s foreign minister from 1958 to 1972), these talented comrades from rather diverse factional backgrounds.

One of them, Deng Xiaoping, a veteran of the 1934–35 Long March, the Sino–Japanese War of 1937–45, and the Civil War of 1945–1949, later, openly, significantly disagreed with Mao, but went on to lead the PRC from December 1978 to November 1989 steering capitalist restoration in the economy. When in 1961 Deng repeatedly insisted that the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CCP should take responsibility for the adverse consequences of the Great Leap Forward, in 1962 Mao went to extent of accepting personal responsibility for the debacle as the chairman of the CCP’s Central Committee, despite Deng asking for only collective responsibility. But, yes, as a “capitalist roader,” Deng was purged in 1969 and his family suffered badly from Red-Guard mistreatment.

What about Peng Dehuai, who defended the Jiangxi Soviet from Chiang Kai-shek’s attempts to destroy it, was a veteran of the Long March, and who was China’s Defence Minister from 1954 to 1959? When he openly criticised and confronted Mao for the failure of the Great Leap Forward (GLF) and for its adverse consequences at the 1959 Lushan Conference, Peng was subsequently purged from influential positions in the party-state, but Mao never ordered him to die.

And, what about the orthodox Soviet-style theorist Liu Shaoqi, who organised underground activity in northern China in the “White Areas” (i.e., areas controlled by Chiang Kai-shek) after 1935 during the liberation struggle, and who wasde jure head of state from 1959 to 1968, among other influential positions in the party-state? Alongside Deng, Liu led the economic reforms after the GLF and was labelled China’s foremost “capitalist roader.”He was purged and treated harshly during the Cultural Revolution. He passed away in oblivion in November 1969. If Mao had been barbaric and cruel like Stalin, I doubt that Liu, Peng, and Deng would have survived, for then, Stalin-like, the “Stalinist” Mao would have ordered their physical liquidation as Stalin did of his opponents in the Great Purges.

It is ridiculous to assert that I am defending Stalin and Mao against Marx. Quite simply, I believe, at the least, the dead, whether Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Trotsky, or Gandhi, or even Hitler, who obviously are not around to defend themselves when the truth is at stake, deserve the truth from us, the living. I am told that the Central Party Archives in China are not easily accessible to all scholars, so the independent, scholarly jury on Mao’s case is still out, but at least the Stalin Archives of the former Soviet Union have been out there for scholars to delve into. The tendency to “demonize” Stalin by piling upon him crimes that he did not commit—of course, there are enough horrors to condemn what should be condemned—should end, especially now when scholars can deal with Stalin and Stalinism as they were.

Indeed, I wonder why Dr Jal wrote that I am defending Stalin against Marx, and Stalinism against Marxism when I had based my approach to Stalin and Stalinism on Moshe Lewin’s The Soviet Century (New York: Verso, 2005). The Soviet Centuryis scathing in its criticism of Stalin and Stalinism (including its institutional arrangements). It traces the Stalinist model—“irresponsible dictatorship” characterised by “systemic paranoia,” especially deep dread of being charged with the “sin of deviation and factionalism”—to, besides contingencies and choices, historical longue durée roots in social structures and political despotism, the manic obsession to overcome the initial economic backwardness, and very adverse conditions in the aftermath of the civil war. Despite such an analysis, Lewin, the book’s author, finds alternatives to Stalinism within Bolshevism. But importantly, he cautions not to “over-Stalinize the whole of Soviet history by extending it [Stalinism] backwards and forwards.”

In a debate I had with Paresh Chattopadhyay (PC) in the Economic & Political Weekly (“On ‘What is Maoism?’: Some Comments” by him, and “Did Lenin and Mao Forsake Marx?” by me, EPW, Vol. 45, No. 22, May 29-June 4, 2010, pp. 89–99), PC argued, among other things, that Mao was an “ideological Stalinist.” Dr Jal can surely now join in that debate, as he seems inclined to, but he should at least absorb what PC and I had argued. I will not repeat this over here. Let me however add something that I had left out then, because of the word limit in EPW’s “Discussion” pages. This is Mao’sdevastating criticism of Stalin, published by a group of Red Guards, and quoted and referenced in Jack Grey, “China: Communism and Confucianism,” in Archie Brown and Jack Gray (eds.), Political Culture and Political Change in Communist States (London: Macmillan, 1979, Second Edition, pp. 197–230). Here are some excerpts from Mao’s criticism of Stalin:

“In thirty years, Stalin did not succeed in creating a truly collective system; all he did was perpetuate the counter-productive exploitation of the landlords …”[Instead of “the landlords,” if the notes taken at the time of the speech had been corrected, this should have been “the Soviet Union’s peasantry.”Mao’s “Speech at the Chengschow Conference, March 5, 1959, in Mao Zedong Hsu-hsiang Wan Sui (“Long Live the Thought of Mao Zedong”), 1967, p.44. This is a collection of confidential speeches and papers.]

“Stalin set the rate of accumulation too high; this rate of accumulation adversely affected industry … he drained the pond to catch the fish …”

“Stalin’s fundamental failure was that he did not trust the peasants … as a result, the state hamstrung the peasants, and the peasants hamstrung the state …” [Mao Zedong, “Comments on Stalin’s Reply to Comrades Sanina and Venzher,” Wan Sui, 1967, p. 121]

“If disagreements arose Stalin dealt with them by suppression; he knew no other way to deal with dissent … when this failed … he had no other resource … and politics in the Soviet Union ceased to have any foundation …”

“Stalin was a bit of a lao-yeh (paternalistic, authoritarian). Educated as a priest, he understood neither materialism nor dialectics. He was out of touch with reality and had no idea how to handle relationships …”[Mao Zedong, “Speech at the Hankow Conference, April 6, 1958, in Wan Sui, 1969, p. 183. This is another collection of confidential speeches and papers.]

I do not want to repeat what I have written in my essay “What is Maoism?” and in my rejoinder to PC, but I need to reiterate a point about Mao’s emphasis on what Samir Amin has called unparalleled relative equality in his book, The Future of Maoism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983). Unlike in the Soviet Union under Stalin, collectivisation (the setting up of communes) in China was not imposed by “murderous violence.” Opposition to it from sections of the peasants and from within the CCP did not give rise to the unleashing of a Terror. The objective of unparalleled relative equality in incomes between peasants and industrial & white-collar workers, and within each of those social categories, and between both and the ruling strata, was pursued, although with limited success in the face of intense opposition. Such relative equality was formalised in Maoist development strategy informed by the “Ten Great Relationships.”

Among the main components of that development strategy were equal exchange between the rural and urban areas, relatively equal remuneration irrespective of individual and sectoral labour productivities, and redistribution of the total surplus such that agriculture (taken together with animal husbandry and fisheries) and mass consumption goods manufacturing are accorded relative priority, with basic industries as a means of doing so. The pricing of agricultural products had to secure for the peasants a real income close to that of the urban workers.

The question was whether to approach relative remunerative equality through equalisation imposed by authoritarian means (what a section of the Maoist left wanted) or compromise by approaching relative equality in remuneration by beginning with remuneration according to productivity (the “right”). Approaching equalisation through democratic means, that is, through inculcation of a socialist consciousness (what another section of the Maoist left wanted) was, in practice,a far cry. Lenin’s positing of social-class neutrality of technology did not help matters.

Unparalleled relative equality also required “delinking” from the world capitalist system as a necessary condition, namely, not autarchy but neutralising the adverse effects of the capitalist law of value—under competition between capitals, the exchange value of a commodity approaches the average amount of socially necessary labour required to produce it –which is grounded in labour exploitation, i.e., private appropriation of surplus value. Under capitalism, even as commodities tend to exchange in proportion to the socially necessary labourrequired to produce them, in the case of labour power as a commodity, the productive worker, forced to exchange his/her labour-power for wages, creates more value than he/she receives as wages (the difference, appropriated by the capitalist as surplus value, and among other things, explains how capitalists dominate capitalist society).

In the transition period to socialism, the Maoists argued that exchange be organised based on the principle of exchange of equal value, but the structural inequality stemming from exploitation of labour must be eliminated. The capitalist law of value must be countered by delinking andinstitution of unparalleled relative equality of remuneration. Exchange in the transition period to socialism was to be based on the principle of exchange of equal value and the principle of unparalleled relative equality of remuneration, the two together anti-capitalist and anti-unequal-exchange.

Unfortunately, Dr Jal does not seem to realize that whereas under capitalism, the law of value operates autonomously within the framework of the capitalist ruling class’s imperative of the search for profits and rent, with the rest of society made to fall in line with its logic;in the Maoist (conception of the) transition to socialism, the principle of exchange of equal value with unparalleled relative equality of remuneration was to be followed in order to preserve the worker-peasant alliance during that transition period. In practice, the quantity of labour necessary to produce the product, the energy and natural resource inputs, unparalleled relatively equal remuneration, and not the least, foresight and knowledge,especially of the need to overcome the relative backwardness of agriculture, was to help regulate the administered value/price of the product. In a sense, given that the socially necessary labour time in this non-capitalist system was also a determinant of the exchange value/price of the product, the product was still a “commodity,” though not the result of capitalist production of commodities by means of commodities with labour power also a commodity.

Unparalleled relative equality of remuneration was essentially a significant adaptation of Marx’s suggestion (in his Gotha Critique) of a distribution principle wherein he made a distinction between “distribution according to work” and “distribution according to need.” The Maoists were suggesting some appropriate combination of the two during the transition tothe lower phase of communism (what Lenin called “socialism”)itself, this for a formerly underdeveloped peripheral capitalist country when it delinks from the world capitalist system after the revolution and embarks on the transition to socialism. The principal shortcoming of the Maoists in China was in practice—not institutionalising the democratisation of the economy and the polityupon delinking and accepting, in theory, unparalleled relative equality of remuneration.

But, to its credit, Maoist China preserved the worker-peasant alliance. However, there were the ideological suppression of many intellectuals crudely labelled as “rightists” after the Hundred Flowers campaign; theleftist excesses; idealist romanticism;Mao’s inconsistent appraisal of the Stalin period;some reckless tactics during the Great Leap Forward (GLF);the mistakes and illusions of the GLF that worsened the adverse effects of the severe famine; the claimed revolutionary intentions but “Stalinist” ways of Lin Biao and his many followers during the cultural revolution;Mao’s thoughtless personality cult vigorously promoted by Lin Biao; and the unjust imprisonment of radical democrats. However, all these debilitating weaknesses notwithstanding, the Maoists mobilised the Chinese people to create what was undoubtedly the most egalitarian society in the world. [for this section, see Samir Amin’s The Future of Maoism (1983); also refer Richard Levy, “New Light on Mao 2. His Views on the Soviet Union's Political Economy,” China Quarterly, No. 61, March 1975, pp. 95-117]

Thecontradictory tendencies in the Maoist period in China together strengthened and retarded the transition to socialism, the latter made worse by the presence of a strong opposition to socialist transition from “bourgeois-nationalists” who had joined the CCP when the Communists became the leading force during the national liberation movement. From the latter half of the 1950s, these bourgeois-nationalists supported the “capitalist roaders.” The “Bombard the Headquarters”—the high seat of the bourgeois aspirations of a large section of the CCP’s political bosses –directive in the Cultural Revolution failed, mainly because of Mao’s error of judgment in imagining that educated “youth” would actas the vanguard of that revolution. (Samir Amin, “What Maoism Has Contributed,” Monthly Review, Commentary, September 2006).

[To be Concluded]

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Vol 54, No. 33, Feb 13 - 19, 2022