Home » Chinese Revolutionary History, Husunzi

Maoism vs. Communism: A Debate

by | 20 October 2012 | 16 Comments | Last modified: 22 Oct 7:24 pm

A lively new polemic is unfolding on de interwebz. This debate is a struggle between those who are for and those who are against the real movement that abolishes existing conditions, a struggle between two types of kittehs: de pro-rev kittehs and de leftist recuperator kittehs.

Red Litterbox, 19 October 2012

Below are some excerpts from an ongoing debate about the nature of Maoism and Mao-era Chinese “socialism” in relation to the communist movement and the concept of “communization,” in response to Loren Goldner’s new article “Notes Toward a Critique of Maoism.” Main texts:

(1) Loren Goldner, “Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism,” Insurgent Notes #7, October 15, 2012

(2) NPC, “The Historical Failures of Maoism,” Red Spark, October 17

(3) Husunzi, comment on Libcom, October 19, reposted on Red Spark as “Some Detailed Measurements on the Redness of the Earth


(1) Goldner:

The following was written at the request of a west coast comrade after he attended the August 2012 “Everything for Everyone” conference in Seattle, at which many members of the “soft Maoist” Kasama current were present. It is a bare-bones history of Maoism which does not bring to bear a full “left communist” viewpoint, leaving out for the example the sharp debates on possible alliances with the “nationalist bourgeoisie” in the colonial and semi-colonial world at the first three congresses of the Communist International. It was written primarily to provide a critical-historical background on Maoism for a young generation of militants who might be just discovering it.

Maoism was part of a broader movement in the twentieth century of what might be called “bourgeois revolutions with red flags,” as in Vietnam or North Korea.

To understand this, it is important to see that Maoism was one important result of the defeat of the world revolutionary wave in 30 countries (including China itself) which occurred in the years after World War I. The major defeat was in Germany (1918–1921), followed by the defeat of the Russian Revolution (1921 and thereafter), culminating in Stalinism.

Maoism is a variant of Stalinism.

(2) NPC:

… Most of what Goldner points out here is, however, more or less historically correct (though he is very selective in which facts to present).  The vast majority of what the CCP did in China after taking power was precisely industrialization/militarization justified in the language of Stalinism (though Goldner’s critique of agricultural collectivization seems to be entirely misinformed). [1]  Mao, though briefly the face of two (failed) movements which included processes of rapid communization (The Great Leap and the Cultural Revolution), was far more often simply a helmsman for the new bourgeois government.  This duality cannot be ignored—from either position.  The supposed “counterrevolution” which succeeded Mao actually took place under his own authority (when the red army was called in to crush authentic communist uprisings in the Cultural Revolution), though it may have contradicted his own earlier call for those uprisings….

Though I am not a Maoist, I am a partisan of the authentic communization processes that took place in China, particularly the Shanghai Commune and other communist experiments in cities such as Wuhan—but also with sympathy for the experiments in communal agriculture that happened in the interim between world wars and during the first stages of the Great Leap (though I have no sympathy for the accompanying countryside industrial production that plunged the nation into famine), all experiments which bore similarities to the agricultural communization that took place across Spain in the summer of 1936.

(3) Husunzi:

… For now I’ll just direct people to my 2010 article “A Commune in Sichuan?” - a review of the book “Red Earth” where I reflected on some of these questions in relation to more recent scholarship (and my own interviews with peasants who lived through the Mao era), and came up with some different answers than those in either Goldner’s piece or NPC’s response. It’s way too long, so you might want to skip down to the conclusion, “What Could Have Been Done Differently…?”

Also see this Libcom thread where I argue that Mao-era China was not “capitalist” but something we might call “developmental proto-capitalism” (or simply “socialism”) since the law of value was operating only indirectly via the “law of development” driven by military competition with properly capitalist states such as the US (In “A Commune in Sichuan” I refine this and talk about other factors…)

Here are some notes I wrote after reading Goldner’s article and NPC’s response:

(1) not really “capitalist” (see above)

(2) Peasantry - not necessarily “non-revolutionary,” examples: many pre-capitalist peasant rebellions in Europe and China, including communistic tendencies as in the German Peasants War, the Diggers, and also in capitalist contexts - 1917 Russia and Ukraine, 1936 Spain, the Zapatistas - in all cases some peasants took active role in collectivizing land, forming federations of co-ops, etc., not simply fighting for bourgeois measures.

(3) Great Leap Forward - more complicated (see “Commune in Sichuan”)

(4) The “Cultural Revolution” didn’t really “wreck” the economy – and that is why it was not a rev! The strikes and unrest of 1966 to 1967 did lead to a slowing of economic growth - which is why Mao et al suppressed it and called for “promoting production (while) grasping revolution,” and rejecting the workers’ concerns as “economistic.”

(5) Agricultural productivity DID increase (especially per unit land, but also per labor-hour - especially when “modern scientific inputs” finally became available in the 1970s) - see figures from my article. And if there had been no increase in productivity, how could it be considered “bourgeois rev” - an unsuccessful bourgeois rev?

(6) ‘There was no “counter-revolution,” still less a transformation of the previously existing social relations of production.’ I agree there was no “counter-revolution,” but I would say there was a transformation - namely a privatization of bureaucratic power, the commoditization of labor-power (in the Mao era workers and peasants were more not really free to choose their own jobs), marketization of social relations (in the Mao era money couldn’t buy much - you got necessities such as housing in kind or with ration tickets from your “work unit”; or if you were a peasant you produced things for yourself - after 1958 through the mediation of the “commune” or “production team”). But it is true that most of the new capitalists that emerged from this transformation were the relatives and cronies of the same Mao-era bureaucrats…

In response to NPC’s critique of Goldner:

I don’t think any “communization” occurred during the Mao era. During the GLF and in the “people’s commune” system in general I think it’s more helpful to say that some “communistic” elements emerged but were warped by their subordination to a system whose primary function was surplus-value extraction. In the CR the situation was different: whereas the communistic elements of the GLF/people’s commune system I think mainly came from the actual desire for something like communism shared by both some peasants and some party leaders (wrongly believed to go hand in hand with a rapid increase in “development of the forces of production” and increased extraction of surplus-value), in the CR the most communistic tendencies were mainly not intended by the central maoist leaders - it was more a matter of proletarians (and to some extent peasants) taking advantage of the opportunity to push their own “economistic” demands that threatened the system (mainly through strikes), and inspired a small amount of “ultra-left” theory that pointed toward something like communization. LG seems confused here to say the CR “wrecked the economy” - this seems to repeat the narrative shared by Dengists and liberals. One thing Yiching emphasizes is how the central maoist leaders used the need to restore economic growth as an excuse to put workers back to work and supress street fighting, etc. - the slogan (from the original 16 points) was “promote production (while) embracing revolution.” I suspect LG is able to make this mistake b/c of his own productivism (and what Théorie Commuiste calls “programmatism”) - he thinks of communist rev as involving a continuation of economic growth under workers control, rather than the destruction of the economy as such.

But here I also disagree with NPC, in that I think the closest the CR got to communization was these two rudimentary elements: (1) strikes and disruption of the economy (especially the shanghai general strike in december 1966), and (2) the mere ideas being proposed by groups like shengwulian, but not acted upon (they didn’t get a chance to act on them, and it may have already been too late anyway). Yiching basically argues that the “shanghai commune” was already a compromise between the striking workers and the maoist leaders who wanted to restore order. Yes it was later also suppressed and reorganized into a “3-in-1 revolutionary committee” where the party and military had more control over it, but the “commune” itself was already the first step toward recuperation.

Later there were things like weapons seizures in Wuhan, but my understanding is that this was mainly about factional struggles among the various rebel groups that had “seized power” (with military backing - so it was really just the spectacle of power). They wanted weapons so they could more effectively kill the other faction leaders and hold onto the illusion of power themselves, not so they could transform the system. In other words, most of this was about political rev (coup d’etat) not social rev.

I recently talked to a former CR rebel in Chongqing and he re-emphasized this to me, since already at that time he was beginning to critique the other rebels (including his own faction) for not recognizing the diff between political and social rev, but he said no one agreed with him. Much later he learned about the ultra-left currents and basically agreed with them (although he became a liberal - as did most of the ultra-leftists).

(3.1) NPC’s response:

… We do, however, appear to disagree on what is meant by communization (not a surprise, as the term [.pdf] has become something of a catch-all recently).  I probably fall more on the side of a Tiqqunist reading of communization, which allows for its use in situations that are short of the outright final communist revolution, though I have little sympathy for the alternativism that is often read in(to) Tiqqun

(3.2) My rejoinder:

I’m following the sense of communization developed by Dauvé et al - basically another name for communist revolution (the replacement of all forms of property, classes, the state, etc., with the “free association of producers” with common access to the means for production and their products) - but with a clear recognition that there can be no separation between the means and ends of this transformation, no “transitional society” as conventional Marxists conceive “socialism,” since historically and logically such transitional systems - involving the concentration of alienated power supposed to defend the revolution - develop into new systems of oppression (which do not whither away on their own), and as islands struggling to stay afloat in a sea of capitalism, themselves degenerate (or “develop”) into part of the capitalist system. So “communization” refers to the communist revolution conceived as an immediate process of transformation from capitalism to communism - “immediate” meaning not that the process will be completed in a day, but that there will be nothing in between the destruction of capitalist relations and the creation of communist relations. In that sense, communization has never occurred, but we could talk about whether it was beginning to occur.

And that’s what I meant by saying that in the CR there were those two communist tendencies: (1) general strikes and unrest, and (2) theoretical production like that of shengwulian. My point is just that the “shanghai commune” was not really comparable to the paris commune, say - it was more of a compromise and didn’t seem to have that much radical potential. And I think most of what the rebels did consisted of factional struggles for power, with little potential of promoting social revolution. As for the GLF and the people’s commune system, I think those included communistic elements, but at best in the sense that a kibbutz or hippie commune contain communistic elements (but actually less so, since the Chinese “communes” were so clearly subservient to a system of state extraction of surplus value…) - again not comparable to the paris commune or the spanish situation in 1936. And yes I think Spain was undergoing the beginning of communization. On the other hand, I do think you’re right to say the Spanish agricultural collectives are comparable to the Chinese agricultural collectives - I think organizationally speaking they were much more similar than anyone I’m aware of has acknowledged (certainly not anarchists). But I think a big difference was the role the Chinese collectives played in value extraction and “development.” (Not to say the Spanish collectives might have been forced to play such a role if things had continued further…)

I agree that Maoism is not a form of Stalinism, but something different albeit heavily influenced by Stalinism. The real Stalinists were Liu, Deng, et al. - Stalinist productivism points more clearly toward marketization, once the state achieves a certain “level of development.” I believe Mao and his followers actually saw their main goal as communism, but they conflated that with the incompatible goals of state-building and rapid industrialization, etc., and the latter trumped the former - as you note in your response…

(3.3) NPC:

Yes, I certainly agree that the direct attacks on party power (aside from petty factional confrontations), the mass strikes (attacks directly on “the economy” and “production” as such) are where the situation is closest to communization-I would say that it was a communization process which was aborted, but the issue here is that whenever communization is aborted it appears after the fact to have always been aborted before it even began, since communization is a reflexive category which is both the actual process of building communism as well as the reference to a communist ends.  The process of communization begins immediately but it takes time to complete, so what happens when that process is cut short? When that communist ends has been cut off, the circuit is more or less broken and rather than communist motion towards communism, you instead find simply a dead momentum moving in no particular direction.  That doesn’t make those moments less moments of communization though.  If they had occurred in exactly the same fashion, for example, but some third element came into play afterwards-maybe the Shengwulian document gaining some new radical appeal or something, which actually pushed the situation into the full-fledged real communist revolution-then these moments would, in fact, be authentic moments of communization in sequence with a larger movement, with absolutely no change in their historic content, only in what succeeded them-they have the correct characteristics, but their context was, like I said, aborted.This is where I’m adding a lot of Badiou and Zizek to the theory-particularly the notion of fidelity.  Because if you posit that a communist revolution could actually happen at some time in the future, and that communist history (in Badiou’s very broad sense of it) will then have been punctuated by these earlier “events” of communization-from the large ones, like the Paris Commune, to the small ones that occurred throughout China at different scales (you’re right that the Shanghai Commune and Paris Commune are not at all comparable)-you then have a situation in which these moments are recuperated into that process of communism, separated by abrupt discontinuity, but nonetheless communist.  The future revolution is the seal of revolution’s historic failures and the guarantee of the communism at the heart of authentic moments of revolt against myriad pre-communist forms of living.

I think the communist duty is to have fidelity to these moments of communization, even aborted ones.  We have to understand the failures, absolutely and in detail.  But we should not judge communism by its failures alone (as does the There Is No Alternative to Capitalism mantra of the dark ’90s)-we have to judge the communist content of something not simply by what happened but also by what could have happened-if communist revolution had happened, would these things have been elements of it or impediments to it?  That’s the criterion on which I am judging whether or not something was authentic communization.  Most of what happened in China wasn’t, in content or hypothetical context.

On a more detailed note, I do question how much land (during the commune period), in the most basic sense, was still having surplus value extracted from it.  Clearly agriculture was still dominated by the value-form-but land itself was no longer priced, traded or usuried upon by the state.  This is a difficult thing to speculate about, I guess, since land and agricultural production on land capable of it are basically synonymous for most of chinese history-and in fact “productive” land itself was frequently just another name for the components recycled from human wastage (the upkeep of soil-power which complements the necessary upkeep of labor-power performed by child-rearing, food, etc.).  But think of the temple where they raised the pigs in Endicott’s acount-that land was not bought, no one asked the state’s permission in using it, it became the physical space on which a socialist/state-capitailst (whatever you want to call it) form of value extraction occured, but, unlike in capitalism (or most other forms of socialism) the land itself was (briefly) not owned by state, collective, pig farmer or capitalist. Nor was it owned by the pigs…

(3.4) Husunzi:

The nature of land tenure under the “people’s commune” is an interesting and complicated question - I’ll have to think about it (maybe other readers can help out here). My knee-jerk reaction is to say that, under the most common system of collectivization (vs. the various forms of household contracting), land was de facto owned by “the pigs” - i.e. the party-state, since the local officials (leaders of team, brigade, and commune) were basically subservient to higher levels of party-state authority - even when their peasant constituency exercised some democratic control over them (there was a continual tension between the formality of peasant democratic control over local officials and their ultimate need to obey their bureaucratic superiors).

However, your comment seems to imply that land produces surplus-value. You write “I do question how much land… was still having surplus value extracted from it.” I know you’re familiar with the basic marxian premise that the only source of surplus-value is living human labor, so what are you referring to here?

Following the marxian framework, I discuss in “Commune in Sichuan” some of the discourse about how the mao-era “socialist” state extracted surplus-value from peasants (including both the state’s own discourse - it made no secret of this - as well as academic literature), adding my own elaboration of this theory. In short, the main mechanism was the “price scissors,” where the state (following preobrazhensky’s theory and stalin’s practice) set the prices of agricultural prices low and industrial products high, and required peasants to sell a certain amount of ag products to the state (and hand over a certain amount in taxes), so that there was a systematic transfer of value from peasants to the state, which used this value as capital for industrialization. The other two main mechanisms were “accumulation by dispossession” (mainly land grabs for building roads, canals, mines, etc.) and corvee (forcing peasants to build the roads, canals, etc.), usually with no more compensation than food rations. The role of the latter two in extraction are a little unclear because some of these “capital construction projects” were for collective and public goods that technically belonged to the peasants and benefited them to some extent. However, part of this benefit was about increasing agricultural production, which increased state extraction, while also increasing peasant income and living standards to some extent (although Endicott’s book, for example, shows that the “value of the peasant work day” didn’t increase at this time despite increased productivity, simply because the state didn’t increase the grain procurement price until like 1978). In any case, much of this collective and public property was later privatized and auctioned off to the highest bidder, or otherwise used for the private gain of local elite, so it ultimately became another means for expropriation and transfer of value from the peasants….

Tags: | | | | | |

16 comments on “Maoism vs. Communism: A Debate

  1. J lowrie on said:

    Well, what are we to make of this ‘debate’? The defeat of the world revolution after 1921, culminating in Stalinism. Mao was either A Stalinist or bourgeois revolutionary. Frankly, this is all bullshit. Some very important Marxists regarded Lenin as having already betrayed the Russian Revolution e.g. Pannekoek, Gorter and Bogdanov. As early as 1917 Bogdanov was writing to Bukharin to warn him of the Leninist degeneration of the party. One recalls the Leninist and Trotskyist support for Taylorism, piece work and one man management. The latter phrase I cannot even translate into Japanese, though I lived there for nine years, so alien is the concept from Japaneses practice; nor is recourse to a native speaker or a dictionary of any help. Yet Trotsky wanted to ‘militarise’ labour. If Stalin was the gravedigger of the revolution then Lenin and Trotsky provided the shovels. As Corrigan and others wrote in’For Mao’, Mao challenges the complete canon of Bolshevik thinking. However, they should have said Leninist rather than Bolshevik, for there were anti Leninists like Kollontai and most importantly Bogdanov of Proletkult fame. It cannot be by accident that only one work so far as I know namely Claudin-Urondo’s Lenin and the Cultural Revolution” draws any comparison between the ideas of Mao and Bogdanov. As for Trotsky , he seems to me to be the supreme advocate of ‘ the productive forces theory of history.’
    As for Mao, the bourgeois revolutionary, are we to understand that that the land, factories and instruments of labour took the form of commodities in Maoist China? If so, what was the market value of land, what was the price of a factory ?
    I have already criticised Husunzi’s argument that the peasants were producing surplus value. It is not clear to me if he still holds to this point of view. But let us be quite clear, the state extracted surplus labour from the peasants in the form of a tax on grain etc., in no way were the peasants selling their labour power to the state, so there could not have been the extraction of surplus value. If you do not even understand the nature of wage labour, then you should go back to studying ‘Capital’, not waste time arguing that most of what happened in China was not ‘authentic communisation.’. ‘ Land was still dominated by the value form-but land itself was no longer priced’. It is difficult to know where to start with such nonsense! If it is supposed to mean that in China the exchange relations of land i.e. the value of land is expressed by being related to an equivalent, then how is the magnitude of this value to be expressed but in its money form or price?

  2. husunzi on said:

    J Lowrie wrote: “The defeat of the world revolution after 1921, culminating in Stalinism. Mao was either A Stalinist or bourgeois revolutionary. Frankly, this is all bullshit.”

    I think it’s pretty clear that an international wave of proletarian insurrection was defeated around 1921 – not much to debate there. But you seem confused on the second point: Goldner’s position is that Mao was a Stalinist, and that Stalinism is a form of bourgeois revolution, or substitute for that in societies that hadn’t yet completed bourgeois rev. NPC and I disagree, arguing that Maoism was different from Stalinism.

    JL: “As for Mao, the bourgeois revolutionary, are we to understand that that the land, factories and instruments of labour took the form of commodities in Maoist China?”

    No, that’s one of the reasons that NPC and I argue that Chinese socialistm was not a form of capitalism.

    JL: “I have already criticised Husunzi’s argument that the peasants were producing surplus value. It is not clear to me if he still holds to this point of view.”

    Yes, I do, and I provided evidence for that in my article that you didn’t refute. (This exchange is here). Not a difficult task, since the CCP itself talked about transferring value from agro to industrial sector, and there is a sizable literature debating how this happened.

    “But let us be quite clear, the state extracted surplus labour from the peasants in the form of a tax on grain etc.,”

    That too, but it was mainly in the form of the price scissors.

    “in no way were the peasants selling their labour power to the state,”

    In some cases they were (working for “capital construction” projects), but most of the time they weren’t even paid – that’s why I use the term “corvee.”

    “If it is supposed to mean that in China the exchange relations of land i.e. the value of land is expressed by being related to an equivalent, then how is the magnitude of this value to be expressed but in its money form or price?”

    No, land was definitely not a commodity during the Mao era (nor was labor-power), which is why I argue that it was not capitalist.

  3. ” If so, what was the market value of land, what was the price of a factory ?”

    I don’t know why you suggest people to read “Capital” when you are the one that confuses price and value in the first place. Value is created by human labor, not the market. Anyway, I don’t see why you find problematic the idea that chinese workers created value and a chinese state extracted its surplus which trickled upwards into all sorts of privilieges.

  4. a) I agree that maoism does not equal capitalism, but isn’t that comparing apples and pears? maoism, as I understand it in a narrow sense, is a political concept and system (of oppression, obviously), that is based on a planned economy of some sort. so we could compare maoism with western democracy or absolute monarchy… and capitalist relations with those in a planned economy: there are, of course, market elements as well as planned elements in both, and the labor market is restricted in some way in both systems.

    b) are “industrial relations” the main issue when talking about capitalism? I think we have to also look at the capitalist/socialist forms of work (factory…) and the control over the means of production (by a ruling class of this or that type). JA is completely missing that when he talks about socialist workers telling him about some degree of rights on the shop floor.

    c) On the email list, especially RN shows a kind of religious devotion, and it is an irony when they hide it behind “academic” rules. of course, they do not want any humor here, but, actually, I would not know how to respond without making bad jokes.

  5. langyan on said:

    A few comments on this:

    1). I agree with Husunzi that the political-economy of Maoist China should not be characterized as capitalist, but as a form of socialist developmentalism.

    2). I think that some in the guoqingpai in China, who make this developmentalism central to their argument about Chinese development and the present moment, especially in rural China, miss the teleology of Maoism, its futurity. Certainly, the Maoist period can be characterized by its drive to industrialize in competition with the west, and this was accelerated by the Korean War. But we should also take seriously the drive towards egalitarianism as well. I would argue that some Chinese leaders, Mao included, truly believed that such equality was necessary to the social and economic development they were after. Now, what we want to call that is an open question, as is, of course, what might have been if the politics of the 1970s (or 1960s) had turned in a different direction. But it was not a pure economic or industrial developmentalism.

    3). With the weakness of the industrial economy in China (I think it was about a quarter the size per capita in 1949 compared to Russia in 1917!), the only way to develop the rural economy from which surplus had to be extracted for industrialization was to rely heavily on rapidly increasing the absolute surplus extracted. Raising the relative surplus, in terms of productivity, was not really an option in the 1950s. This meant increasing the absolute amount that rural laborers worked-especially in the off season-and that meant raising the capacity of the rural state to control and organize the rural population. We could say that the Maoist period was characterized as the formal subsumption of rural labor to socialist developmentalism. The Great Leap Forward seems to have been a failed attempt to both raise the absolute surplus and relative surplus at the same time. But the technology and organization for the latter was just not there.

    4). By the 1970s, however, this formal subsumption (of absolute surplus expansion) had largely won the gains it could, and the industrial economy had also developed significantly. The state turned, not without a great amount of contestation within the fractured leadership, towards real subsumption and raising the productivity of rural workers with new inputs and technology.

    5). The shift, marked by the beginning of the reform period, was a continuation of trends from the early 1970s towards raising productivity and modernizing technology-shifting from quantitative to qualitative expansion. But with the added components of changing the egalitarian remuneration policies that seemed to the reformist leadership to conflict with doing so and of opening to the west in order to import advanced technology. Together these trends led the Chinese economy being integrated within global capitalism. Chinese developmental socialism and its futurity largely ended then. The reforms since that time have mostly been designed and have worked to further smooth China’s integration to capitalism.

    6). Thus the Maoist political economy could be characterized as one that largely aimed at raising the absolute extraction of surplus in order to pay for the basic industrialization of China. While the aim might have been to produce an egalitarian society in the future, that future was cut short by the very process and politics of shifting towards a goal of raising productivity and modernizing technology. Much of this was driven by international competition and a fear of war. This is not to argue a determinitive path, there was certainly enough contingency (and space for politics) then that China could have gone in a different direction.

    7). To legitimate this developmentalism politically, the CCP had to make a deal with the population that life would be more stable-again, I am not making an argument one way or the other about the real intentions of the leadership in the CCP, although that can be debated. For peasants this largely meant they would no longer be landless; for workers it meant guaranteed employment, housing, retirement, and food (the danwei system) and a say in working conditions, something that continued to be a struggle throughout the Maoist period and on. The reform period is characterized by an end to this bargain, and its protests marked by this fact-clear in Tiananmen 1989, for example.

  6. Lang Yan,

    I agree with your points here. Except for this: “We could say that the Maoist period was characterized as the formal subsumption of rural labor to socialist developmentalism.”

    My understanding was that formal subsumption was marked by the regathering of regular productive practices (i.e. cottage industry, personal plot agriculture, whatever) into a new space or field of production (the cottage industrial laborers do the same work on the same looms, just now all in one big factory), while real subsumption is the name for when the actual practice of production shifts (if those cottage laborers in the factory are now given a power loom and half of them laid off).

    Maybe I’m just using the more obscure definition of the word taken from Theorie Communiste’s reading of Capital (I think).

    In the case of Maoist China, it seems like initial land reform was formal subsumption (other than the former landlord class who got their land justly confiscated)-peasants still mostly did the same work, just now on different land (usually more). With the beginning of collectivization you start seeing a shift from formal to real subsumption (actually doing work differently)-and then you certainly see real subsumption with the Great Leap, particularly the addition of large amounts of off-season, unpaid labor in infrastructural projects and rural industry (much of the rural industry failed, but some-such as fertilizer factories-producing a qualitative change in how farming was practiced).

    Maybe the problem, though, is that you have two subsumption processes — attempts toward egalitarian models and attempts toward productive models, which are not necessarily the same, though, as you point out, certain leaders were by all means earnest in the belief that they were. The problem, then, is that you have increasing real subsumption toward semi-capitalist variants of production (where surplus is extracted in the form of value), which, like you say, was necessary to raise absolute value at first-but this is also happening as labor is (at least partially) formally subsumed under egalitarian modes of production (until the 70s). There were also periodic bursts of this formal egalitarian subsumption exploding into attempts at real egalitarian subsumption (the Great Leap is probably the biggest of these).

    The other issue is that these can’t be so clearly divided, though they are clearly different models of making and using things-some of the real egalitarian modes of production experimented with were, in fact, more productive than their predecessors. Similarly, the mass labor projects on irrigiation works, etc. were both egalitarian in the sense that they were productive of a communal infrastructure (which was later privatized more into the hands of the chinese state and, today, is being sold off to private interests), and they were simply more productive, raising the absolute value produced in the countryside.

    Finally: Hu Sunzi’s already relayed your comment as a quoted comment on the original thread this was being discussed on (Red Spark’s webpage, under his reposted comments). Can I format it better than he did and post it as a continuation of the original discussion?

  7. And finally, Marx maintains this distinction in Volume I of Capital:

    “It will be sufficient if we merely refer to certain hybrid forms, in
    which…the producer has not yet become formally subordinate to
    capital. In these forms, capital has not yet acquired a direct control
    over the labour process. Alongside the independent producers, who carry on
    their handicrafts or their agriculture in the inherited, traditional way,
    there steps the usurer or merchant with his usurer’s or merchant’s capital,
    which feeds on them like a parasite.” [p. 645, Penguin]


    Maybe good to consider a society within which exist multiple modes of production such as I’m sure is the case in China.

  8. jklowrie on said:

    This is a good debate to have, and obviously will tend to be somewhat elliptical .
    Let me turn first to Amir. Where do I say value is created by the market? Marx himself states “the expression of the value of a commodity……..is its money form or price(Capital p189). Further, “Money…is the measure of value…it is the standard of price(ibid. p 192). “Money…..as a measure of value”(ibid.p213). So I come back to my question:what was the price of a factory in Maoist China? Can Amir enlighten us? As for the land it had a value because human labour was objectified in it, but the peasants remained the communal possessors of it as well as their own means of production. If the argument is that sovereignty of the land was concentrated on a national scale in the state, then you might argue that what I have called a tax is in fact a rent, but in fact this difference would merely be semantic, and you would thereby be conceeding that there was no private property in land in Maoist China. The peasants paid this tax to the state by the product of their labour not by selling their land,which did not assume commodity form. It is only now with the increasing dominance of the capitalist mode of production that land is being privatised with a view to separating it from the peasantry, the universal development of capitalism. So in Maoist China land had no price, just as under capitalist relations of production some land may have a price but no value.
    I feel Husunzi’s argument is self contradictory in places . He argues that the peasants were at times selling their labour power to the state, but mostly they were not paid wages, yet they were still producing surplus value.By such one might as well argue that the peasants who built the pyramids were producing surplus value or the slaves who built the Roman aqueducts(in fact many workers on these would have been day labourers). Marx has a lot to say about this and expressly condemns this line of argument. I suspect the state capitalists wish to denounce Mao as an exploiter of the peasants and since Marx has provided them with the concept of surplus value they have employed it. It really is a bit sophistical to call the construction of irrigation works ‘capital works’.
    I know of the defeat of the German Revoution by 1921, but others subsequently succeeded . These too have taken the capitalist road, and I am certain that Cuba will soon follow. But I do not think the answer to this problem is the immediate transformation of capitalist into communist relations. This is to fly in the face of historical experience. One might in fact argue that Mao moved TOO quickly on this front. Rather the problem and Mao’s failings lie elsewhere , namely with the Leninist concept of the party. However that may be, I find no range of explanatory power in the argument that Mao was a bourgeois revolutionary trying to exploit the peasants to built capitalism . For my part I believe that the commune would form a basis for the transformation of China into a communist society where at least a few millions might survive capitalism. Worldwide there will need to be a return to the countryside and a much reduced population. The dissolution of the commune in China is a cataclysm not far in the future. On the other hand I picked up a pamphlet of the Communist Party of Britain the other week, in which it was argued that thanks to the overthrow of Maoism China had made great strides in the last three decades in the direction of socialism. It seems some ‘Marxists’ cannot tell capitalism from other modes of production despite all Marx’s gigantic efforts! It still seems best to follow Marx in arguing that between capitalism and communism lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other, and Mao in arguing that who will win out is not easily decided. Mao made major contributions;one risks major errors in failing correctly to evaluate them. Of course he also made mistakes and had failings. But then to quote Marx,’de te fabula narratur’!

  9. El Burro on said:

    I think the solution of the problem IS the immediate transformation of capitalist into communist relations.

  10. Price is the measure of value, but its not value. If that was the case then we would have to throw marxian economics out of the window because supply and demand and other social forces get factored into price. In America, what is the price of the postal office? What is the price of a public school education? What happens when a country is in a war economy?

    If such a superficial notion as “price” was at the heart of capitalism then, the U.S. wouldn’t be capitalist either. Your argument is the same argument libertarians use when they complain that real capitalism doesn’t exist in the world.

    What was going in china was primitive accumulation. Primitive accumulation in the 20th century more or less always looked like that. It’s like saying Mexico wasn’t real capitalism because the government turned to communal landholdings and nationalization for primitive accumulation.

  11. The fact that the USSR and China turned into market based economies is absolute proof that what was going on was nothing else than a sort of primitive accumulation.

  12. jklowrie on said:

    I wish further to address the argument that the communes were dominated by the value form. Marx argues: 20 yards of linen =1 coat. The value of the linen is represented as relative value or assumes the relative form of value. Only the value of the linen is expressed. By means of the value relation the natural form of commodity coat becomes the value form of commodity linen. But 20 yards of linen may also equal 40lb of coffee or 2 ounces of gold,etc. Thus arises the money form which plays the part of universal equivalent. The process of exchange gives to the commodity which it has converted into money its specific value form. Money is the necessary form of appearance of the measure of value which is immanent in commodities. As the measure of value it serves to convert all the various commodities into prices!(Capital I p192) So once again what was the market value of land During the commune period?

    • husunzi on said:

      Well I’ve been saying all along that land was not a commodity during the “socialist” period, so it didn’t have a “market value” (by which I guess you mean price?), nor a “value” in Marx’s sense.

  13. jklowrie on said:

    I appreciate that there are various points of view here, so my remarks are generally intended unless I specifically name people.
    The market value of land would be the average of the prices attained by the sale of land, and so should be much more readily ascertained.
    Does Husunzi identify a labour market in the communes? I ask him to explicate more clearly who was exactly doing what to whom in the communes. He says that the peasants were not even paid wages; they were just given rations. Note the use here of the passive voice, which enables Husunzi to elide the agent of such actions. By whom were they or were they not paid wages, by whom were they given rations? What were the origins of such rations? Do you hold the party cadres at that period to have been a stratum of capitalists? If labour power was not a commodity, there cannot have been a labour market , and if there was no labour market,capital cannot have purchased labour power, so it cannot have produced surplus value. I agree with Husunzi on the price scissors. Perhaps we should define the value transferred from the peasantry to the
    state as ‘tribute’.
    However that may be,historically industrial goods have always been more costly than agricultural ones, so the only way the scissors can be closed is by a policy of industrialisation. (For most of its history the majority of humanity has been unable to afford a bed! )Consequently for industrialisation to take place ‘the direct producers of foodstuffs must work for more time than is required to reproduce their labour power… they must perform some kind of surplus labour….the production of foodstuffs is the very first condition… of any production at all……. the great division of labour between agriculturalists and industrialists must be possible…..Even though the labour of the direct producers of foodstuffs……breaks down into necessary and surplus labour, IN RELATION TO SOCIETY it thus represents the necessary labour for the production of foodstuffs” (Capital 3, p773). Once a certain development of industry has taken place, it is then possible to overcome once more the division between town and country and between agriculture and industry. Mao’s solution to this was the commune. Of course the commune failed, but it did not fail because of its communist relations as the rightists claim nor yet again for its “capitalistic ” features as the state capitalists assert, but because it was not democratic. Mao had no theory of democracy, but neither had Marx himself, who had certainly studied his Aristotle. As Aristotle observes, the mark of a democracy is selection to office by LOT. Work it out for yourselves. The first Marxist to advocate this for a communist society so far as I know was Paul Cockshott ( Towards a New Socialism). and I can readily affirm that he came to such advocacy from a consideration of the failure of the Cultural Revolution. But of course if you start out from some pseudo “Marxist” philosophy called dialectical materialism( cf J D White, The Intellectual Origins of Dialectical Materialism)

    which enables you to evaluate all historical experience against some ideal, some supreme philosophical historical theory whose supreme virtue consists in being a-historical,then you will never get far. If the advocates of state capitalism have any ideas how we might get from capitalism to socialism humanity no doubt will be glad to learn of them. As for Mao, let us develop what he got right, while rejecting what he got wrong. This is normal scientific method; what we seem to be getting here is some version of Maoist original sin: there has been history, but there no longer is!

  14. Prince Kapone on said:

    Maoism is Marxism applied to China. We must remember that Marxism is not a dogma to be imposed on reality, but a science that should be creatively applied to it. In that sense, Mao was a Marxist because he adhered to Marxist principles and Marx’s method of analysis. Of course the conclusions he drew were different from Marx’s because China was different from Western Europe. The fact is, under Mao, the land and other means of production were socialized via the state, which was supposed to be the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Now, for various reasons, those who worked within the state became a new bureaucratic elite, alienated from the workers and peasants. This is a major problem that all socialist societies have had and none have been able to overcome up until now. To Mao’s credit, he was the first communist leader to recognize and acknowledge this problem, although he failed to find a successful solution to it as well. The Cultural Revolution was Mao’s final attempt to resolve this contradiction, but when the movement started to target the state apparatus itself, Mao was unwilling to follow through. This is somewhat understandable because the overthrow of the state could have rendered China very vulnerable to foreign intervention at that time. In any case, it was under Mao that the communist movement came closest to communism. The Peoples Communes were the vehicle that would have led China to communism had they not been subverted and ultimately dismantled by the Dengists. Within the commune, genuine efforts were made to eliminate the law of value, bridge the gaps between city and village, industry and agriculture, and mental and physical labor, and to give political power to the masses directly. Planning became relatively autonomous, although still a component of the national plan. The gap between leaders and the led became more narrow, and democracy flourished, albeit in a much different form than it allegedly does in the west. Having said all this, I uphold both the Soviet and Chinese Revolutions, I uphold Lenin, Stalin and Mao, and I criticize the mistakes and errors of the first round of socialism. I’m ready for round 2.

  15. I believe this bears repeating -

    ” The Peoples Communes were the vehicle that would have led China to communism had they not been subverted and ultimately dismantled by the Dengists. Within the commune, genuine efforts were made to eliminate the law of value, bridge the gaps between city and village, industry and agriculture, and mental and physical labor, and to give political power to the masses directly. Planning became relatively autonomous, although still a component of the national plan. The gap between leaders and the led became more narrow, and democracy flourished, albeit in a much different form than it allegedly does in the west.”

    Further, Amir is correct, price and value are not identities - just think, for example, of an inflationary period, prices rising even as the labor value within the product is essentially constant [or perhaps declining].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


HTML tags are not allowed.

icon_wink.gif icon_neutral.gif icon_mad.gif icon_twisted.gif icon_smile.gif icon_eek.gif icon_sad.gif icon_rolleyes.gif icon_razz.gif icon_redface.gif icon_surprised.gif icon_mrgreen.gif icon_lol.gif icon_idea.gif icon_biggrin.gif icon_evil.gif icon_cry.gif icon_cool.gif icon_arrow.gif icon_confused.gif icon_question.gif icon_exclaim.gif