MY CONCERNS OVER THE LINE OF THE UNIFIED COMMUNIST PARTY OF NEPAL (MAOIST) BY JOSEPH BALL
MY CONCERNS OVER THE LINE OF THE UNIFIED COMMUNIST PARTY OF NEPAL (MAOIST) BY JOSEPH BALL (http://www.maoists. org)
For the past four years I have been a supporter of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). However, in common with many other Maoists I have serious reservations about the line that the leadership of the UCPN(M) has put forward since 2003, in relation to multi-party competition. I believe that the endorsement of a system of multi-party competition by a communist party, whether or not this is meant to occur under the dictatorship of the proletariat, will lead to that party adopting a revisionist line. This is because this line does not identify the appropriate means for the proletariat to exercise power. The only way the proletariat can exercise power is by taking control of the state and society at all levels. Proletarians must progressively take over all the tasks involved in the management, government and administration of the state, the economy and the rest of society including those areas of the superstructure in which ideology and culture are developed. The ordinary worker must learn to become an administrator or an enterprise manager or an ideological theorist. Distinctions between experts and non-experts must be broken down. In this way, the class distinctions that still exist in socialism will be overcome as society advances to communism.
The initial stage in this process is the establishment of revolutionary organs of power. In the Soviet Union such tasks were carried out through the Soviet. In China the form that eventually was settled on, during the Cultural Revolution, was the Revolutionary Committee. There is no good reason at all why any Communist party should encourage different classes or factions in society to set up political parties to compete for power. While multi-party competition fulfils some purpose for factions of the bourgeoisie who wish to have some forum to settle their differences, it can only ever be a charade for the proletariat. As I was finishing this article some fairly serious criticism of the of the UCPN(M) was published by the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA). My article should not be seen as a complete endorsement of everything said there. However, I do believe that all Maoists, especially those of us who have supported the line of the UCPN(M), would benefit from serious study of the line of the RCP-USA and Bob Avakian on issues related to what constitutes true revolutionary change, the nature and limitations of democracy and the class nature of the state. I believe it is wrong for Maoists to simply dismiss this line as dogmatism and refuse to enter into proper discussion on these issues.
Many have criticised the policies pursued by the UCPN(M) in the current ‘transitional’ stage. These are policies such as the confinement of the People’s Liberation Army in cantonments, participation in elections to the Constituent Assembly and so forth. I am certainly not in a position to comment on such matters, as I do not have sufficient information about the day to day struggle in Nepal. However, the party has advocated a more long-term line that states that multi-party competition should exist even under socialism. It seems that they do not intend this to be a line designed only for the specific conditions of Nepal but one for the whole of the world communist movement.
Often the line taken by those who do not want the UCPN(M) criticised is that the party’s tactics arise from the specific conditions of Nepal which outsiders cannot fully appreciate. However, the line on multi-party competition under socialism is clearly something intended to be far wider than a simple tactical response to present day conditions in one country. This is shown by the UCPN(M)’s description of this line as ‘21st Century Democracy’ and the way in which the UCPN(M) draws general conclusions from the perceived failures of the revolutions in the USSR and China in order to try and justify this line. I therefore feel it is legitimate and important for all Maoists to debate this line, irrespective of some of the moralistic criticisms that might be made of us for doing so from some quarters.
As far as I am aware the line of multi-party competition first emerged in the document ‘Present Situation And Our Historical Task’ which was adopted by the Central Committee of the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in May 2003 and was published in the 9th issue of the party’s official organ, ‘The Worker’, in February 2004.
In this document there is a section entitled ‘On the Experiences Of History And Development Of Democracy In The 21st Century’. This section tries to explain how the Russian and Chinese revolutions ended up with the restoration of capitalism. It suggests that in the past communists have talked
‘….as if a particular Communist Party remains proletarian for ever once a New Democratic or Socialist state is established under the leadership of the Party, there is either no opportunity, or it is not prepared, or it is prohibited, for the masses to have a free democratic or socialist competition against it. As a result, since the ruling Party is not required to have a political competition with others amidst the masses, it gradually turns into a mechanistic, bureaucratic Party with special privileges and the state under its leadership too, turns into mechanistic and bureaucratic machinery.’
In order to solve the problem of bureaucracy, this document prescribes that
‘[It is] only by institutionalizing the rights of the masses to install an alternative revolutionary Party of leadership on the state if the Party fails to continuously revolutionize itself that counter-revolution can effectively be checked.’
As Prachanda, leader of the UCPN(M), stated in his interview in ‘The Worker’ No 10
‘…the Party believes that within the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist constitutional framework, only through multi-party competition even in a socialist society can counter-revolution be prevented’.
Here in two quotations, in two separate documents, we see the word ‘only’ repeated. It is ‘only’ through multi-party competition, albeit within certain limits, that capitalist restoration can be prevented, the leadership of the UCPN(M) is saying. I believe this is an error, an error that causes me grave anxiety.
This is a fundamental break from Maoism. According to Maoism, even after the proletariat takes power, the capitalist class continues to exist in society and within the Communist Party this leads to the development of a capitalist political line. This means that movements such as the Cultural Revolution are needed in order to struggle against these ‘capitalist roaders’. Class struggle and Cultural Revolution are the means by which the socialist line wins victory, not multi-party elections.
However, the leadership of the UCPN(M) seem to have a marked lack of enthusiasm about the idea of actually implementing the methods of the Cultural Revolution. They do not see the methods of the Cultural Revolution as the way to prevent capitalist restoration in future socialist societies. In fact, they tend to regard the Chinese Cultural Revolution as a noble failure. It is this view that leads them to their promotion of multi-party competition as the only way to prevent capitalist restoration.
We can see evidence of this approach in other statements by the leaders of the UCPN(M). For example Prachanda, in an interview with Anand Swoop Verma, states when speaking about Stalin’s influence over the communist movement: ‘For this reason [the influence of Stalin’s line] a metaphysical tendency dominated over the entire communist movement which Mao Tsetung tried to overcome through Cultural Revolution but the influence of Russian socialism and Stalin was such that even Mao could not succeed in his efforts. …After the Chinese Revolution there existed eight political parties in China which did not support feudalism and imperialism. Mao allowed them to continue to work because he wanted them to support the Communist Party. We have turned this ‘support’ to competition.’
So in Prachanda’s eyes the Cultural Revolution was a well-intentioned failure. It’s legacy now superseded by the UCPN(M)’s new model of multi-party competition.
Bhattarai, a senior leader of the UCPN(M) and now Finance Minister, expresses a similar lack of enthusiasm about Mao’s concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat and Cultural Revolution. In ‘The Question Of Building A New Type Of State’ in ‘The Worker’ No 9 he states that:
‘Also, drawing correct lessons from the bitter experiences of failure of the masses to stage organized rebellion against counter-revolution in the past, we should ensure a system in the new context whereby political parties may be allowed to get organised keeping within definite progressive and revolutionary constitutional limits and they may be encouraged to function not only in a ‘cooperative’ manner but in a ‘competitive’ spirit vis a vis the formal Communist Party.’
The reasons why Bhattarai favours such an approach are alluded to again later on in the article where he says that:
‘It was only during the period of Mao that both the revisionist and dogmato-revisionist tendencies were attacked and a balanced stress was placed on both the questions of dictatorship of the proletariat and of ‘continuous revolution’ and withering away of the state. As Mao’s efforts during the short period were grossly inadequate and incomplete, the revolutionaries of the present age should dare to go beyond all the past experiences and build a new type of state power…’
Surely, it is futile of the leadership of the UCPN(M) to say that they uphold the Cultural Revolution, as they do in other statements, if it was ‘grossly inadequate’ and ‘only’ multi-party competition can prevent capitalist restoration. What was the point of the Cultural Revolution in China if this was the case? What was the point of the establishment of the Red Guards, the establishment of the Revolutionary Committees, the massive efforts to involve the people in inner-party struggle and to involve the people in the running of their agricultural communes and factories? If the line of the leadership of the UCPN(M) is followed to its logical conclusion, the whole thing could have been avoided by simply calling a multi-party competitive election!
Mao surely knew that such a process would be at best futile. He knew that competitive elections were in reality not an appropriate way for the people to exercise power and we will examine below what would have been likely to happen if the Chinese Communist Party had called multi-party competitive elections rather than, or in addition to, leading the Cultural Revolution. In this context, we will also look at the reasons for the relative quiet of the Chinese people in the face of the revisionist coup, something Bhattarai is referring to in his argument for multi-party competition. Like Lenin, Mao understood that the liberation of the proletariat comes through their involvement in the administration and running of the state apparatus and the superstructure as a whole, under the leadership of the most advanced section of the proletariat, which is in the Communist Party.
In a socialist society, you cannot simply get around the need for Cultural Revolution and class struggle against the capitalist class in the Party by calling an election. Rather than preventing capitalist restoration, multi-party competition just undermines the Party’s leading role in liberating the proletariat. An election is not class struggle and a multi-party election is not a means by which the proletariat can exercise genuine power. Multi-party competition is the specific form of governance that arises under the capitalist system. It is no more appropriate for a socialist society, than the absolute monarchy and the feudal political system was for capitalism. Just as capitalism cannot develop under an outmoded political system, neither can socialism develop under the political system appropriate to the previous stage of social development.
Multi-party elections serve a dual purpose in a capitalist system. On the one hand, they act as an institutional mechanism for the capitalist ruling class to resolve their differences. On the other hand, they exist to dupe the people into believing they exercise some power and control over the political system.
The capitalist class needs a state institution to regulate and control the market economy, to enforce contract, to regulate competition, to coordinate the construction of infrastructure, to apportion the burden of taxation between different groups etc. Obviously, there is much contention among capitalists about how these functions will be carried out, as their own individual financial interests are very much affected by the decisions made on these issues.
The most logical system for the capitalist class, would be a system in which democracy would exist among the capitalists and dictatorship among the working class. This, in other words, would be an open ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’. There would be a parliament with a property qualification so that only members of the ruling class could vote. Different capitalist interests would then contend to win each other’s votes, through argument, persuasion and outright bribery. This was the type of system that existed in the UK up until the second half of the nineteenth century.
However, every system of exploitation must have some means of legitimating itself. The feudal system had legitimated itself for centuries by the propagation of religious superstition and notions to do with the ‘divine right of Kings’. The spread of rationalism and social development made these notions unsustainable. This left the ruling class without anything to justify its own existence. However, they soon found something, in the form of ‘democracy’. The corrupt political system of Britain in the early nineteenth century would have been overthrown if the franchise had not been extended and universal suffrage created. Universal suffrage convinced the workers that their liberty could be gained by the election of ‘labour’ MPs, firstly through the backing some ‘pro-labour’ Liberal candidates and then through the Labour Party. The labour movement in Britain was diverted into a thoroughly reformist direction, from which it never emerged.
The system of ‘universal suffrage’ has now spread from Western countries like Britain to the majority of countries in the world. However, the working class and peasantry of these countries do not exercise any power or control over the political apparatus of the state, despite their formal ‘democratic’ rights. In capitalism, an election is simply a means by which people choose between options that have been drawn up for them by the machinery of the ruling class- by the big corporations, the wealthy individuals that fund the parties and the various state and capitalist institutions that control the media etc. We can see this in the recent election in America. In 2008, the corporate funders of political parties and the capitalist owned media sensed the American people were fed up of the Republicans and wanted change. So a substantial portion of those interests who had backed Bush started funding and supporting Obama. He was elected and duly endorsed the mass robbery of the US tax payer to pay off the bad loans that were incurred by the big banks.
In Britain, in the 1990s, the people were sick of the Conservatives who had presided over the bungling of economic policy and many job losses. So the right-wing media and the City Financiers gave their backing to Tony Blair and New Labour, who won the election in 1997. The same old Conservative policies were implemented but the people had been given their ‘democratic choice’.
As Bob Avakian said in his 1986 book ‘Democracy Can’t We Do Better Than That’
, ‘On the most obvious level, to be a serious candidate for any major office in a country like the U.S. requires millions of dollars-a personal fortune or, more often, the backing of people with that kind of money. Beyond that, to become known and be taken seriously depends on favourable exposure in the mass media… They [the mass media] are themselves key pillars of the power structure: they are owned by major financial interests (where they are not owned by the state) and are in any case closely regulated by the state.’
In essence, Avakian is re-stating what Lenin said on the matter of bourgeois elections on many occasions.
As Lenin said in his ‘Theses On Bourgeois Democracy And Proletarian Dictatorship’ in 1919
‘…the workers know perfectly well that even in the most democratic bourgeois republic, “freedom of assembly” is a hollow phrase, for the rich are in possession of the best public and private buildings, have enough free time for assembly and are protected by the bourgeois machine of power.’
And also that ‘freedom of the press’ is
‘a deception so long as the best printing-plants and the biggest supplies of paper have been appropriated by the capitalists, and so long as capital rules over the press.’
And we are speaking mainly here about the developed West, not even the Third World! In Third World nations, the imperialist powers, led by the USA, have encouraged multi-party competition as a way that local elites, put in place and sustained by the imperialist powers, can legitimate their power. If any of these governments steps out of line, the imperialist powers, will first withdraw investment and aid in order to strangle the country economically and if that fails resort to coups and even direct political intervention to pressurise the people into supporting the political opposition.
For example, before the late 1990s the West had no problem with Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and granted it aid and investment. With Western encouragement, Mugabe implemented a multi—party system. As in many countries around the world, there were allegations of ballot-rigging but Western donors took no significant action. Mugabe was doing the West’s bidding and making no challenge to imperialism, so he was allowed to do what he wanted in terms of how he conducted elections. However in 2000, under mounting pressure from his people, Mugabe endorsed the re-taking of land stolen from the black people of his country by white colonialists. In 2001, the US passed the ‘Zimbabwe Economic Recovery and Democracy Act’ which empowers the US to use its voting rights and influence (as the main donor) in multilateral lending agencies, such as the IMF, World Bank, and the African Development Bank to veto any applications by Zimbabwe for finance, credit facilities, loan rescheduling, and international debt cancellation. The result has been to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy. The West has made it quite plain to the people of Zimbabwe that all this would change if they were prepared to put the opposition MDC in government.
Other examples are what happened to the Palestinian people after they elected Hamas to run the Palestinian Authority. The Western governments froze all funds to the Palestinian Authority. A coup overthrew Hamas rule in the West Bank but the people of Gaza continue to be murdered by Israel and denied adequate food and medical treatment by both Israel and the other imperialist powers, for the crime of electing Hamas. There are many other examples of how the imperialists subvert ‘democracy’ across the Third World in this manner. These are only two of the most recent and glaring examples.
Given the imbalance in financial, economic and military power between the imperialist powers and Third World countries, it is clear that no real democracy of any kind can exist in the Third World, if we are talking about a bourgeois multi-party system. The existence of a multi-party system just gives the imperialists additional leverage as they can use sanctions and other measures to pressurise the people to elect one party rather than another, when the need arises-for example, if one of their local lackeys suddenly goes through a nationalist phase in response to popular unrest.
Some might argue that the UCPN(M) is not going down the road of reformism on the grounds that the UCPN(M) states that the elections they are proposing will be carried out under ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’. This statement was made by the UCPN(M) in 2007 in its contribution to the seminar it organised on ‘Imperialism And Proletarian Revolution In the 21st Century’ (see The Worker 11).
But this statement that multi-party elections should be carried out under the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is quite bewildering. Proletarian democracy was never conceived as some occasional exercise in putting crosses on ballot papers by those who led the revolutions in Russia and China. Why revert to a bourgeois institution designed to deceive the masses once socialism is achieved? The only honest role multi-party competition has in capitalism is as a means of resolving differences and conflicts between factions of capital. Given that in socialism, the Communist Party seeks neither to deceive the people or provide a forum for capitalists to divide up the fruits of the exploitation of labour, what need is there for a multi-party system? With a heavy heart, I must say that, the UCPN(M)’s insistence that multi-party competition will be necessary under socialism is a sign that it does not truly intend to create a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy. It seems that they are seeking some sort of ‘Third Way’ between proletarian democracy and bourgeois democracy. Like all such ‘Third Ways’ this line will lead inevitably the Party down the capitalist road, not the socialist road.
To understand the UCPN(M)’s error in this regard, we must investigate the true nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy. Lenin in ‘The Proletarian Revolution and The Renegade Kautsky’ describes the work of the Soviets in proletarian democracy in the following terms.
‘The Soviets are the direct organization of the toiling and exploited masses themselves, which helps them to organise and administer their own state in every possible way.’
‘the bourgeois parliament [in revolutionary Russia] has been dispersed-and far more accessible representation has been given to the workers and peasants; their Soviets have replaced the bureaucrats, or their Soviets have been placed in control of the bureaucrats, and their Soviets have been authorised to elect the judges.’
Lenin’s vision for the future was not just of making things ‘more democratic’ or merely increasing proletarian representation in the organs of power as some sort of sop to his core constituency. Lenin had a profoundly exciting and far-reaching vision of human liberation in which all would share in the administration of the state and in which ultimately class divisions and the division between leader and led would dissolve.
In ‘The Immediate Tasks Of The Soviet Government’ Lenin states
‘for the first time a start is made by the entire population in learning the art of administration and in beginning to administer. These are the principal distinguishing features of the democracy now applied in Russia, which is a higher type of democracy, a break with the bourgeois distortion of democracy, a transition to socialist democracy and to conditions in which the state can begin to wither away.’
‘There is a petty-bourgeois tendency to transform the members of the Soviets into “parliamentarians” , or else into bureaucrats. We must combat this by drawing all members of the Soviets into the practical work of administration… .Our aim is to draw the whole of the poor into the practical work of administration, and every step that is taken in this direction-the more varied they are, the better-should be carefully recorded, studied, systematised, tested by wider experience and embodied in law.’
Of course this vision could not be realised all at once but the whole history of socialism in Russia and China involves repeated attempts to put this vision into practice, reaching their culmination in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In the Soviet Union the establishment of the Soviets was followed by the establishment of the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate of the state apparatus and Stalin’s ‘Lenin Enrolment’ which sought to bring large numbers of ordinary people into the Communist Party, to expand the numbers of those participating, as part of the vanguard, in the Soviet Union’s administration and political life at the highest level. In China Mao tried to realise proletarian democracy, first through the Hundred Flowers campaign and then through the Cultural Revolution. Bourgeois critics, of course, talk only of the failures and shortcomings of these efforts. But communists should not capitulate to such criticisms. Many, many attempts to establish bourgeois democracy failed. Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth was followed by eventual restoration of the monarchy. Efforts to establish the bourgeois system only revived a hundred years later with the French Revolution. The 1848 Revolutions were followed by reaction. There were many failures and reversals before the bourgeoisie finally took power. The same will be true of the establishment of proletarian political power.
In fact the whole history of attempts to establish proletarian power in the socialist countries has been a history of struggle between antagonistic classes, just as such struggles took place between bourgeois and feudal forces, long after the initial victories of the bourgeoisie. In Lenin’s time, there was a struggle against the petty-bourgeois elements that were entering the Party and severe bureaucratic tendencies. As we have touched on, Mao theorised that the problem was that a new bourgeoisie would arise within the Communist Party. This new bourgeoisie arose because in socialism there is still a division between mental and manual labour. In the factories, for example there is still a division between the worker and the manager. In the arena of state administration there remain divisions between a petty-bourgeois class of administrators and the working class who are administered by them and ultimately between the leaders and the led. However, some of those that lead take the socialist line of wanting to break down these divisions. Others take the capitalist road of wanting to sustain and extend the power of the capitalist class. These two lines within the Party are a reflection of the material reality of the continued existence of different classes in society. The role of those with the socialist line is to ceaselessly try to break down these divisions by leading the proletariat in a class struggle against the new capitalist class in the Party.
So the aim is to put the proletariat in command of the state by continuously extending its involvement in administration, with the help and guidance of its most advanced elements that form its vanguard in the Party. The principal means the proletariat must use to exercise this role is class struggle against the capitalist roaders.
How could the concept of multi-party elections under the dictatorship of the proletariat assist in this class struggle? What kind of question would this election decide? In a class society, like socialism, the most important question would be the struggle between the capitalist roaders and those taking the socialist road. It is perfectly clear that in a class society, the most fundamental conflicts in society do boil down to a conflict between the two main opposing classes with intermediate classes allying with one of the two poles or vacillating between them. Divisions between factions of the ruling class are also significant but clearly the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is the principal contradiction. The outcome of this antagonism will determine on the one hand whether, as a member of the proletariat, you will become liberated from poverty and oppression and on the other hand, if you are a bourgeois, it is a question of whether your whole status and social identity will be liquidated. This is bound to be the main question in any political contest in socialism, with all other issues being subordinated to it.
Can anyone believe that such a contest would simply be allowed to take place on a level playing field, with equal rights given to both contestants? As we saw, in our description of elections in capitalism, it is impossible to believe that an election conducted on such an ideal basis could take place in any class society. The outcome of this election would be determined by which class was in the ascendancy within the state structures, the media, the army, the electoral commission and all the rest of it. And of course, the imperialists would play a very decisive role in determining the outcome.
Let us say that Mao had called an election in the 1970s and two parties had stood. No doubt both would have called themselves communist but one would have been led by those with a Deng Xiaoping line and one by those with the line of Mao and the so-called ‘Gang of Four’. Who would have won this Chinese election? We can imagine that the rightists would have stood promising to ‘uphold every word of Mao’, while ending the Cultural Revolution. The leftists could only offer continual class struggle, at a time when the country had already gone through years of Cultural Revolution. There would therefore be a strong possibility that the rightists would have won such an election. They would have had the backing of the new capitalist class in China that controlled parts of the Party and the state apparatus. They would also have the backing of the foreign imperialist powers with their promises of huge aid payments and loans, jf the people made the ‘correct’ choice.
Once the capitalist roaders had state power, it would be a simple matter for them to isolate and crush those taking the socialist road. Without any leadership from the left, it would be easy to neutralise any popular discontent over the overthrow of socialism with promises and bribes. They might have ensured the relative passivity of the people in the face of capitalist restoration, by promising an increase in agricultural procurement prices, the right of peasant households to lease their own land and foreign investment to create urban employment opportunities. In essence the imagined rightist promises described here were the actual promises with which Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping did deceive the people and win their passive acquiescence for the restoration of capitalism, once the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ were defeated. Here lies the immediate explanation, at any rate, of why socialism in China was overthrown without mass uprisings by the people. By the time Hua Guofeng’s phony socialist line was replaced with Deng’s openly capitalist line, there was no-one left to lead socialist revolts among the people, who were in the process of being duped by new promises from Deng.
Would the people have been right to make this choice? Should the Party have allowed this choice, if that is what they wanted? Was it a denial of freedom to refuse to allow such a choice? Not at all.
The point is that it is very easy to for the imperialists to fire ‘sugar-coated bullets’ at the people of poor Third World countries that are struggling for independence from imperialism. The overwhelming wealth and power of the imperialist nations allows them to influence the thinking of people in Third World countries that are tempted to emulate the affluence of First World workers and may listen to the argument that they can achieve this if they follow western ways in politics and economics.
However, going down this path is not in the interests of the people and it is correct for a communist party to refuse to give into demands among the imperialists and pro-imperialist elements within the country and the party to organise bourgeois elections that will determine such an issue. Such an election cannot be a fair an equal one. The greater wealth and power of the imperialists creates a powerful ideological force that may easily tilt the election in favour of the rightist forces.
However, it must be stressed again, this risk is because of the greater ideological power of the imperialists. It is not because voting for capitalism is in the best interests of the people of Third World countries. This fact can be illustrated by looking at the results of China taking the capitalist road for its people. When the rightists did finally come to power by coup rather than ballot they set about enslaving the people of China for the benefit of the Western export market.
Deng Xiaoping might have said ‘To Get Rich Is Glorious’ but not many workers or peasants in China have actually got rich. In 2004, the economist Erin Lett and the demographer Judith Banister calculated that hourly manufacturing wages in China were 0.67 cents per hour (1). The income made by agricultural workers, of course, tends to be lower. Whatever, the propaganda spread by Deng, China was developing economically and socially under Mao. Industry was developing and life expectancy was increasing rapidly due to equal food distribution and the socialist health care system. The people were the controllers of their destiny and their labour was for the benefit of the society they lived in, rather than to meet the frivolous desires of western consumers.
It might be argued by the defender of the UCPN(M)”s proposals that they are not proposing an election between the supporters of a capitalist line and a socialist line. Rather, under the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ that they propose, only parties supporting the socialist line would be allowed to stand.
Let us imagine that such a scenario could take place. What would be the point of an election between two parties taking the socialist road? In capitalism, you have elections fought between different parties that uphold the capitalist system. But as we have seen, there is a material reason for this. Capitalists have different interests and they need an institutional means of resolving them. The proletariat, when it takes the socialist road is not like this. It does not divide itself into two or three or four, with each faction having different interests, contrary to the interests of the other factions. If such a division happened, it would be a sign that these factions were adopting a bourgeois line, as opposed to a socialist line based on the extension of solidarity, the line of serving the people not one’s own narrow interests and the struggle for communism.
Let us go back to the initial scenario, where no ‘capitalist roaders’ are allowed to stand. The fact is that if all these ‘competing’ parties supported the socialist line, then this would mean that there would be no actual competition! The ‘competition’ would be a sham to convince the people there was a choice of parties, when in fact no choice was necessary. But if our aim is to put the people in control of society and break down divisions between leaders and led, what sense does it make to say that they should be deceived in this way?
The whole point of proletarian power is that the proletariat is the ‘universal class’. Although, it must struggle as a class against the bourgeoisie, its ultimate role is in the creation of a classless society. The capitalist class presents its own interests as universal to try and prevent the proletariat understanding that they are exploited and rebelling. The proletariat however, has no material reason to try and deceive others about the nature of its rule, as it is not an exploiting class. Neither should the proletariat be deceived itself, if the goal is for the proletariat to understand and appreciate its role in taking conscious control of the state and society. Avakian makes a fundamental analysis of why the proletariat is the only class that can lead humanity to progress and liberation. Avakian expresses this very well in ‘An End To Horror Or A Horrible End’. Here Avakian is comparing the bourgeois and the proletarian methodologies for advancing human knowledge. He states that:
‘But fortunately, one of the methodologies does provide a comprehensive basis for arriving at, and making a powerful material force of, the truth: the outlook and interests of the proletariat do correspond to the further emancipation and enlightenment of humanity, in a qualitatively greater way than ever before.’
Avakian goes onto say that this is not because the truth has a class character. The real reason why the proletariat is the only class that can advance human development, progress and freedom is best summed up in ‘Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?’, where Avakian writes that in communism:
‘There will still be-there will always be ignorance, in dialectical relation with knowledge-but there will not be suppression and distortion of knowledge and ideas, and there will not be the bias and limitation imposed by the domination of exploiting classes and the very division of society into classes.’
The point we can glean from here is that it is precisely because the proletariat is not an exploiting class that it can advance human progress. It does not make distorted truth claims in order to disguise the nature of an exploitative and oppressive system. According to the ‘truth’ propagated by the bourgeoisie, the market system is the best of all possible economic systems. They are still relentlessly pushing this line in the media, despite the fact that, as I write, the ‘free market’ is leading to economic collapse, a massive increase in world poverty and environmental disaster. The ruling class propagates a ‘truth’ that is so clearly incorrect because of the way the view of the world it promotes is twisted by its own personal interests. Some factions in the ruling class may talk of some reform and regulation of the system but they can never-as a class-arrive at the truth that the system itself is the problem and must be replaced. Only the proletariat- as a class-can do this. (I use the phrase ‘as a class’ because I am, of course, not talking about every individual in these classes. Some individual bourgeois do realise the system must be changed but they do not have the collective weight of their class-the media, academic institutions, policy making bodies and so on behind them. These latter institutions do reflect the collective class interest of the bourgeoisie and form and sustain its collective class position that capitalism must continue in existence.)
However, it is the purest idealism to assume that there can be a simple ‘competition’ of ideas, in which the proletariat can hope that its perspective can win out. Ideas are produced and propagated in the superstructure. The class that controls this superstructure will have the dominant role in this production and propagation. And there is no free ‘competition’ between contending classes when it comes to the issue of who controls the superstructure. There is antagonistic conflict which leads to the dictatorship of one class or the other.
Of course the proletariat cannot exercise this dictatorship as a collection of atomised individuals. They must have a disciplined party to lead this struggle. This is not principally a matter of practical organisation, though clearly organisational discipline is necessary for success in the struggle. Primarily, it is a question of ideology. Although, the proletariat is the bearer of truth and progress, it does not come to the truth or lead humanity to progress spontaneously. Due to its previous subordinate position it must learn how to administer and govern, once it takes power. It must learn the necessary practical skills and it must develop its ideological ability. Also, there is much it must unlearn. It must unlearn all the ideas that the bourgeoisie have indoctrinated it with to keep it in backwardness and subordination. It must unlearn chauvinism, racism, religious sectarianism, superstitious ideas and sexist ideas and practices.
The other problem is that many proletarians, especially many of those in the imperialist countries, do have some material stake in the system and this does distort their world outlook. Many proletarians in these countries benefit from the exploitation of the Third World proletariat and this means that we have to look for our world revolutionary vanguard elsewhere-among the lower strata of the proletariat in the imperialist countries perhaps and certainly among the Third World proletariat.
It should also be understood that the historic role of the proletariat can be subverted by the blandishments of imperialism, even among the Third World proletariat. We saw how the promise that the Chinese people would ‘get rich’ if they capitulated to world imperialism was used by Deng Xiaoping to win the Chinese people’s relative acquiescence to the capitalist restoration that had taken place. The material difference is that in the First World countries, imperialism has led to a permanent affluence among the majority of the populations. In the great majority of Third World nations, this is not the case. Although the proletariats of some of the more economically successful Third World countries may achieve increases in living standards in boom years, the subordination of these ‘middle-income’ countries to the imperialist world order makes their economies more vulnerable to world economic shocks and their peoples far more susceptible to mass pauperisation in the down-turns. As I write, most of the ‘tigers’ of South-East Asia are facing drops in national output far worse even than those being suffered in the First World nations, and this only a few years after these countries finally recovered from the effects of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. However, the promise of First World affluence is used extensively in the Third World to deceive the people and defuse anti-imperialist struggle.
Although, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a majority dictatorship, not a minority one, it is not a matter of the rule of spontaneous majority opinion. There is a need for a vanguard to educate the masses and to prevent the proletariat’s universal outlook being subverted by the influence of false consciousness and bribery. As Mao said leadership is ‘From the masses, to the masses’. The correct line originates from the masses, not the party leadership. However, the vanguard’s role is to synthesise the disparate expressions of opinion by the masses and separate their correct ideas from their reactionary ideas in order to create a coherent, progressive, proletarian line.
It is Avakian’s achievement that he has courageously and clearly stated the line of the dictatorship of the proletariat in a world where the victories of the bourgeoisie against the people seem to have discredited the notion of the liberation of humanity forever. Avakian’s work helps to clearly demarcate the line between those communists who believe in the necessity of the proletariat taking over the superstructure and running it themselves through their own revolutionary institutions and those who seek to substitute empty bourgeois ‘democratic’ rituals for the vanguard role of the proletariat.
AFTERWORD Those who have debated with me will know that until relatively recently I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the UCPN(M). It is reasonable to ask why my line has changed. Simply put this is due to my recognition that my previous way of thinking about such issues was bound up with some reformist ideas. I did not appreciate what I have identified here as the crucial demarcation between revolutionary and revisionist lines on state power. This demarcation is one between those who follow the line that the proletariat must take over and administer the state and society through revolutionary organs of power, under the leadership of the Party and those with the opposing line that the proletariat can exercise power through multi-party competition. Although I have always opposed parliamentary politics, except as a short-term tactic, I tended towards an anarchist notion that proletarian power involved the ‘extension’ of democracy. I believed the most crucial aspect of proletarian power was the proletariat having some passive choice between different candidates for election or different policy options. I did not fully appreciate that the proletariat’s principal aim must be to exercise control over the state and the rest of the superstructure, otherwise the lists of candidates and policy options will be drawn up by the bourgeoisie within the party and all the ‘democracy’ in the world will simply reinforce the oppression and exploitation of the proletariat.
I also tended to go along with the line that the talk of ‘multi-party competition’ by the UCPN(M) was ‘all a tactic’. But as others have pointed out, during the various debates on this issue, it is unconvincing, to say the least, that a communist party should adopt a non-Marxist theory of the class nature of the state and announce this as a theory of ‘Proletarian Revolution In The 21st Century’ (see The Worker No11), all as part of a ‘tactic’.
My own mistakes in this regard are entirely my own responsibility and no other person or group is to blame for them. However, I am aware that many others still have a way of thinking similar to the one I had when I supported the line of the UCPN(M). I would urge them to seriously consider the criticisms of this line that are being made and to return to the revolutionary path.
NOTES (1) See ‘Labor Costs Of Manufacturing Employees In China: An Update To 2003-4’ in Monthly Labor Review November 2006. Very roughly speaking it is wise to double this figure to take into account the fact that prices are lower in China than in the West-this gives some approximation of Purchasing Power Parities. For example the CIA’s estimate of China’s economy for 2008 is that it is about twice as large in PPP terms as it is in terms of its value at international exchange rate values. This matter is complicated by the over-estimation of the PPP value of national income before December 2007-by a factor of about 40%.