China, socialism, and democracy

Michael Roberts, a British Marxist economist, in an interesting paper on China’s economy, makes the point near the end that China has a democracy deficit. And democracy, he suggests, is (or should be) at the core of the socialist project in China and elsewhere if socialist societies hope to surmount the inevitable contradictions – economic and otherwise – that arise in their growth and development in a globalized economy and multi-polar world. I agree with that observation, although that wasn’t always the case. At earlier points in my political life, I considered (as did the Communist Party of which I was a member and leader for many years) democratic governance in a socialist society as secondary, conditional, and subordinate to the defense, consolidation, and expansion of socialist power. 

What triggered an about face in my thinking was the sudden implosion of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. When these states went belly up – and it happened quickly and to my great surprise – it forced me, a bit kicking and screaming, to reconsider my views. And upon reconsideration I reached several conclusions, but for the purpose of this post, I will only mention one: there is no substitute for authentic and robust democracy and popular participation – not able leaders, not a revolutionary party – if socialism is to stand a chance of surmounting in a timely way the formidable challenges, not least climate disruption, that it faces in the course of the 21st century.

But in each of these countries, the “vanguard” parties – guided by the “science” of Marxism Leninism – fell short in this regard. Upon gaining and then centralizing power, they became in a short space of time the ultimate arbiter on all matters of governance at every level of society. The much proclaimed rights and freedoms in each of these states turned out to be formal, limited, and subject to arbitrary reversal. Likewise, the democratic structures and civil society were more rubber stamps than sites of deliberation and decision making. The latter took place in the high councils – the politburo – of the ruling parties.

To take the most egregious example of this dissonance between proclamation and practice, the second (Stalin’s) Soviet Constitution of 1936, hailed at the time by the communists worldwide, came in the midst of Stalin’s Great Purge, with his prison industrial complex – an archipelago of work camps in far flung regions of the USSR – near peak capacity, and his vise like grip on Soviet society still intact. While the atmosphere of terror and fear subsided after his death in 1954 and a “thaw” began, the primacy of the Soviet Party and its control over politics, culture, and society still remained intact. 

Whether the proper lessons from the experience of the former Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe have been drawn by the Communist Party of China in particular or the communist movement in general isn’t evident, to me anyway. While China rightly can claim notable achievements that should earn it the respect of people and governments worldwide – not a new Cold War, the breadth and depth of its democracy strikes me as problematic and, if that is the case, it is in the long run counterproductive to its stated aspirations of building a mature, egalitarian socialist society and assisting in the creation of a peaceful and sustainable world.


Naive and dangerous

WV Senator Joe Manchin is an obstacle impeding the passage of the $3.5 trillion dollar reconciliation bill, but a bigger obstacle is the nearly total absence of a mass campaign, including massive public actions of one kind or another, in support of the bill. To think that a bill of this kind will sail through Congress without an outside push is naive and dangerous.

Didn’t have to be this deadly

According to recent studies, 1 in 500 people have died due to Covid. Astounding, heart breaking, and frightening! But we should also remember that it didn’t have to be this deadly, this devastating, and this crippling.

I’m obviously no expert, but for what it is worth my advice is to stay safe, get vaccinated if you aren’t, support and comply with mandates, and challenge stupidity and false notions of “freedom” that endanger the health and lives of our families, friends, and others.

One more thing: vote and get out the vote for Democrats in November of next year. Have a nice day!

Impervious to the pain of the world

Much will be written on the legacy of 9/11 in the next few days. And I will have more to say, but for now, I find it hard to tease anything good out of that infamous episode in our country’s history. The terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, as I see it, became, the raison d’etre – or the rallying cry – of right wing extremism, led by the Bush-Cheney White House, to turn it, even before the smoke and debris had settled on Lower Manhattan and Washington, into the justification to impose by military might and intimidation its reactionary, anti-democratic, racist, and class agenda on the country and world.

Obviously, it wasn’t successful, but the loss of life and treasure and the poisoning of politics and political discourse here and worldwide as a result of its political adventurism was and still is incalculable. And yet, it would be a delusion, and an exceedingly dangerous one at that, to think this reactionary, militarist, and racist juggernaut has learned a lesson or been chastened by the negative impact of its catastrophic policy here and elsewhere. Actually, why would we even entertain that thought for a second?

This political bloc, after all, is irredeemable, impervious to the pain of the world, drunk in its urge to dominate globally, and appreciably more – not less – dangerous than it was 20 years ago. And, as we know all too well, it came within a whisker of stealing the presidency and gaining control of Congress in the last election. What is more, it is – and we better be if we aren’t – laser like focused on the elections next year and then two years later.

Expansive democracy

Socialism isn’t simply about the provision of an expanding basket of consumer goods to subordinated classes and people or the attachment of “Bill of Rights” to its Constitution, Socialism earns its name only if it translates formal rights into real and expansive democracy at every level of social life and creates a sustainable and egalitarian society through the sustained efforts of millions. To modify an old slogan, put people’s democracy and egalitarianism in command.

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