Yesterday was Mao Tse tung’s birth anniversary and I have been thinking a lot about Mao lately. In recent years, actually. Not for some of the most disastrous and wrong-headed policies that mark the period of the 1950s and 1960s in China but because he represents — still, even today — an untheorized moment in Marxism’s global history. This was what one might call the moment of the global South itself.
Lenin’s slogan of worker-peasant alliance was a mere strategic one, meant to draw allies for the revolution. It did nothing to rethink the ‘historical inevitability’ –or ‘necessity’— of industrialization and capitalism. At the first available opportunity, peasants were the ones to be forcibly expropriated— of their grain (tax in kind etc.) and Lenin was merciless when it came to squeezing the peasantry. It is only in Mao that we find the first serious attempt to rethink the historical necessity/inevitability issue. First in his extremely prescient ‘Critique of Soviet Economics’ and then in his essay ‘On Ten Major Relationships’ where he reframed the entire question of socialist development not as one of the development of heavy industry (and the Stalin model based on Preobrazhensky’s ‘primitive socialist accumulation’) but as ‘walking on two legs’ (industry and agriculture being equally important). Does that mean, as many Indian Marxists continue to believe, that he wanted to keep China ‘backward’? Is there no other way agriculture can be preserved, except by remaining ‘backward’? (this term is usually of capitalist origin but we will let it pass for the moment).Actually large scale land reforms had already been accomplished— that was the first big change and warlords of yore no longer dominated China’s countryside. The task of rebuilding agriculture would begin at that point through cooperativization in the first place. But much more serious rethinking on the stagist idea that socialism was and could only be built after full fledged capitalism remained to be done. Without that no further movement was possible. Even within the CCP, the fascination with the Stalinist model and western bourgeois modernity remained — waiting in the wings for the opportune moment to strike. They did, in the person of Teng Hsiaoping (Deng Xiaoping). That subsequent history of course, belongs to the world of realpolitik and is not very important here. It is the history of ideas, of possibilities lost and paths not taken, that provide the questions that even today require serious theoretical attention.
30th December 2020
A few points:
1. Lenin differentiated between different sections of the peasantry. If one checks ‘Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution,’ he sought an alliance with the whole of the peasantry in the democratic revolution and the poor peasantry in the socialist revolution. There is a reference to the attitude to the peasantry of Lenin in the period of War Communism when the Russian communist leadership thought they were going directly to communism. In this period, they followed the Jacobins in the period of the French revolution. About the NEP period and the Tax in Kind, this is not generally regarded as a ‘forcible expropriation’ in the historical literature. The replacing of seizure of grains from the kulaks by the committees of the poor peasantry under Military Communism by the Tax in Kind in no way was ‘forcible expropriation,’ unless one considers that the kulaks should not pay taxes. There was no general squeezing of the peasantry, only of the peasant bourgeoisie—the kulaks. In many scholarly sources from the 1960s the Marxist differentiation of the peasantry was dropped. The Marxist classics spoke of the creation of communes of the *poor* peasantry. This understanding was continued by the German social democrats except for some right-wing elements who desired an alliance with the Bavarian kulaks. So, Lenin was in line with the Marxist antecedents.
2. The Mao writings which are referred to correspond to the period of the 20th Congress of the CPSU. ‘Critique of Soviet Economics’ draws heavily on the developing ‘market socialist’ theories of the Khrushchev period. Mao argued that the letters on Notkin, and that on Venzher and Sanina by Stalin were incorrect. Let us remember that all three of these economists supported the commodification of the instruments and the means of production. In industry this was upheld by Notkin and in agriculture by Venzher and Sanina. Mao also criticised the Soviet leader for rejecting the views of Yaroshenko who downgraded the relations of production of Soviet society and elevated the importance of the forces of production. Yaroshenko continued to defend his views after the fall of the Soviet Union. Yaroshenko’s views were based on those of Bogdanov who had been subjected to criticism by Plekhanov and Lenin. The bulk of the ‘Critique of Soviet Economics’ is founded on a discussion of the 3rd edition of the Political Economy Textbook of the Academic of Sciences, Moscow, of 1958. This volume, which, alas, was not translated into English, reflects the market reforms which came to dominate under Khrushchev. It argues, inter alia, that the products of Soviet industry circulate as commodities in the state sector. Mao does not blink an eyelid on this formulation in his reading of this manual of political economy.
3. Lenin had argued that in capitalism, Maurice Dobb reminds us, the ‘production of means of production’ proceeded faster than the ‘production of means of consumption,’ i.e., ‘production for production’. Under socialism it was essential to invest more in Department A, than in Department B. Under Soviet socialism till the 20th Congress of the CPSU this was a fundamental feature of economic policy. The economic results of this are well-known in the Soviet Union until Khrushchev’s market policies and the end of directive centralised planning. When planning was based on Soviet policy of the pre-20th Congress period in China in the First Five Year Plan it led to extraordinary results. It would be interesting to look at the results of ‘walking on two feet’.
4. Lenin certainly accepted the view that industrialisation was a pre-condition of building socialism but nowhere did he consider socialism needed to be based on building capitalism. We may ask the ques-tion: which Marxist trend after the Mensheviks, asserted the idea that socialism could only be built after developing a full-fledged capitalism? It would be interesting to learn about this.5. The Stalin model allegedly is based on Preobrazhensky’s ‘primitive socialist accumulation.’ This western notion was exploded decades ago. Preobrazhensky argued that industrialisation needed to be based on the financial exploitation of the peasantry. (The New Economics, which is based on his talks at the Communist Academy). A reading of the writings of the Soviet economic historian AA Barsov dispels the mendacious notion that Stalin followed the views of Preobrazhensky. Barsov estab-lishes that, “the surplus product created by the labour of the Soviet peasantry played a big role in the establishment of a mighty socialist industry. The contribution of the Soviet peasantry to the solution of this immensely important historical task was great. Nevertheless, the majority of the accumulation, necessary for carrying out socialist industrialisation, was obtained from the non-agricultural branches of the economy and was created by the working class.”’ (Balans stoimostnykh obmenov mezhdu gorodom i derevnei, Moscow, 1969) (In Russian). This book was extensively discussed in the western journals. (See, for example, Michael Ellman. ‘Did the Agricultural Surplus Provide the Resources for the Increase in Investment in the USSR?,’ The Economic Journal, December 1975. pp. 844-864, Arvind Vyas, ‘Primary accumulation in the USSR revisited,’ Cambridge Journal of Economics, 1979, 3, pp. 119- 130). It was the working class of the Soviet Union which financed industrialisation by the new values it created in Socialist industry.
6. It is generally accepted that the Soviet industrialisation in the 12 years before the Nazi invasion led to the defeat of the aggressors and the liberation of the countries of central and eastern Europe, and Manchuria. Would the policy of walking on two feet whether advocated by Mao or Bukharin have been successful in doing this?
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