ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Maoist China

We read with interest the editorial (EPW, 24 October 2009) on China. While appreciating the great relevance of the subject we see a couple of problems as we go through it. First, the statement: “But what of the socialism conceived by Marx and Engels as the negation of capitalism which would, over time, develop its own positive identity through class struggle in which working people would remake society and in the process remake themselves?” The statement is at best ambiguous. Such a statement appears nowhere in Marx’s (Engels’) extant texts. Socialism, according to these texts, is of course the negative of capital­ ism and is its exact opposite (at a higher plane). But with this negative, which is equivalent to the positive existence of a “union of free individuals” called by Marx and Engels, in alternative terms, com­ munism, socialism, a society of free and associated individuals, republic of labour, cooperative society, etc, based on the associated mode of production (AMP) – as opposed to the capitalist mode of pro­ duction (CMP) – classes have already dis­ appeared by definition along with the class struggle. This also signifies that the labouring people have already remade themselves and society, which will now only progress without the conflict of classes. This remaking will have taken place during the very long period of tran­ sition from the old society to the new – very significantly called by Marx, “revolu­ tionary transformation period”. This period itself, containing classes and (hence) class struggle, does not yet trans­ gress the bourgeois bounds, as Marx reminded Bakunin in a polemic.

This formulation – abstracted from its supposed connection with Marx and Engels’ conception of socialism – rather corresponds to Mao’s conception of socialism with classes and class struggle continuing in socialism. This assertion of Mao of the existence of classes (and class struggle) in socialism – even understood as the lower phase of communism à la Lenin – which rather corresponds to Stalin’s position of socialism, is a com­ plete revision of even Lenin who often underlined that “socialism means the abolition of classes”. What, then, is the “socialism as conceived by Marx and Engels”? It is, as mentioned earlier, a so­ ciety of free individuals – free both from personal dependence (as in patriarchy and in pre­capitalist society in general) and from objective or material depend­ ence, as in capitalism based on com­ modity production and wage labour. At the same time, the state which has always confronted the individual as an alien and oppressive power disappears, leaving the society of free individuals at last as a “true community” and not a “false community” (Marx and Engels 1845­1846). With the disappearance of the last mode of production – the one based on classes and the last society to have subjugated the human individual – the “prehistory of human society vanishes and its history begins” (Marx 1859). In other words, socialism (or communism), far from being the “end of history” is only the very beginning of human history (where the individuals at last become human individuals).

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