We received these remarks in response to Chino’s “Bloom and Contend”. We feel the response is a useful contribution to the discussion and debate. We welcome additional feedback, debate, and questions in the comments sections of both pieces.
by John Steele
There’s a lot in this essay to agree with, and I appreciate the attempt by the author to situate the discussion of Maoism within the concrete development of the Chinese revolution; as he notes, this was “one of the great world-historical revolutions of the 20th century.” But in carrying this out, some problems arise.
Overall, in Chino’s approach and in the basic “lesson” he strives to draw, there is a merging of two different questions:
Maoism as the ideology of the Chinese revolution, and
Maoism as a present-day theoretical or ideological basis for revolutionary analysis and action
The author strives to argue and move from a critique of the former to a critique of the latter, and this second critique (of present-day Maoism) seems to be the chief aim of the essay, even though the first occupies far more space. A major problem I see in this approach is that the historical examination is made the servant, to large extent, of a polemic or argument against a present-day political tendency or tendencies. But it would be perfectly possible to make good arguments and polemical points against Maoism as a basis for contemporary revolutionary politics, without drawing this out of Maoism in the Chinese revolution. And it would be, I believe, far better to do so, for under this approach historical analysis tends to be conducted through the terms of contemporary political polemic, thus pulling away from examining Maoism (in this case) within its historical context. (I think how we view the great revolutions of the 20th century is an important question today, and one that’s almost never answered in a very fruitful way.)
The problem often boils down to the use of very insufficiently developed categories as if they were transparent terms of analysis. The chief culprits here are ‘Stalinist’ and ‘state capitalist’, two adjectives which are subject to a great deal of ambiguity and polemical superficiality.As far as I can see, the only explanation that the former term receives is a brief polemical characterization on page 6: “What we call ‘Stalinism’ today is essentially a distorted version of Marxist theory, taken up and reworked for use as the ideology of a new ruling class.” In the case of ‘state capitalism’ there is a bit more discussion:
I use the term “state capitalist” to refer to any system in which the exploitation and capital accumulation described by Marx occurs in a system in which the vast majority of the means of production have been nationalized, or otherwise placed under the control of a state apparatus. In such a system, the fundamental aspects of capitalist social relations remain. A proletariat, defined by its lack of access to and control over the means of production and subsistence, is forced to alienate its labor to a separate social group and attendant institutions, which to an ever greater degree comes to resemble a distinct ruling class. As ongoing exploitation yields capital accumulation, this becoming-class continually expands its control over wealth and political power through its position in the relations of production, and determines the trajectory of the reproduction of society.
…as long as the conditions described above exist, “value” in the capitalist sense continues to exist as well. This “value” in the capitalist sense will provide the metric through which use-values are equated, production is conceptualized and coordinated, and foreign trade is conducted. The resulting “law of value” will tend to impose seemingly objective limits and presuppositions on those living under its auspices, including those in positions of state power—no matter their subjective intentions or political pedigree. (2, 3)
Fine so far, but I think the question is more subtle, in the context of both USSR and China, than this general characterization can get at. (I hope to show what I mean in saying this, in a forthcoming piece on 20th century socialism as a “mode of production.”) Chino implies, in the sentence which begins the next-but-one paragraph (“to explore the implications of this concept further, we must examine the broad path of the Chinese revolutionary experience”) that the bulk of the rest of the essay – which does look at the course of the Chinese revolution – will be in service of clarifying this concept in these historical circumstances. Instead, however, state capitalism is simply used through the rest of the essay as if it is already a basic category which is clear and transparent.