CPI-ML discusses China's socialism
BALASUBRAMANIAN SIVARAMAN, politburo member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (Liberation) (CPI-ML) was in Sydney in January for the Marxism 2000 Asia Pacific Solidarity and Education Conference. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's EVA CHENG about his party's view on developments in China.
At its 1997 congress, the CPI-ML expressed "a serious concern about the growing predominance of capitalist tendencies in China", said Sivaraman, "but we haven't jumped to the conclusion that capitalist restoration is underway or is completed".
He said China's development must be judged in the context of a revolutionary regime in an underdeveloped country, seeking to develop its productive forces, and because of this there was a need to make certain concessions to capitalism for a period. What the limits of these concession are a question of revolutionary judgement.
Sivaraman said that after a socialist revolution and the socialisation of the ownership of the means of production in many economically backward countries, some sort of "agrarian transition" (through collectivisation, state farms and mechanisation, etc.) was necessary to improve the productive forces.
These measures, he noted, would sooner or later lead to the growth of a vast petty commodity sector within the socialist economy and the growth of some kind of state capitalism within the proletarian state. Not only would there be a need to acknowledge the existence of market forces under a socialist economy, he said, there might be a need to consciously introduce them at times.
This need, Sivaraman noted, was similar to that of the early Soviet Union's New Economic Policy (NEP). While at that time this entailed temporary concessions, in more recent times expanded concessions, for a longer period, are necessary due to the low prospects of assistance from a socialist revolution in an economically advanced country.
"We can't have a powerful workers' state on very weak material foundations", said Sivaraman. "You have to take technology from the West if politically possible ... Once you go for that, you visualise a longer stage of transition, then you accept some kind of state capitalism under a workers' state, a workers-peasants' state or popular state."
Given such constraints, Sivaraman sees no problems with experimentation by post-revolutionary regimes in making use of Western investment so long as these foreign capitalists do not end up controlling vital segments of the economy. Otherwise, he warned, "you pay a heavy political price, not just an economic price".
"How much Western investment a socialist country like China can take ultimately depends on how much of a rise in the productivity of labour that country is going to reap ... it depends on the cost and benefits." For these reasons, the CPI-ML had earlier abstained
from a judgement of Beijing's post-1978 course, preferring to "wait and see".
However, the CPI-ML finds Beijing's theory of "socialism with Chinese characteristics", in which Beijing propagates the need for an "experiment of 50 years" to build capitalism under a workers' state, "highly controversial".
As the state sector has been increasingly diluted, and popular mobilisations of the masses remain very weak, the CPI-ML has become increasingly worried about the direction in which China is heading. The party expressed these concerns publicly at its congresses in 1987, in 1992 and more critically in 1997.
Sivaraman subscribes to the Marxist understanding that it is impossible for a superstructure different from its economic base (a socialist state with a capitalist economy) to co-exist for a prolonged period.
Sivaraman rejects criticisms, which have currency among certain Western "friends of China", that China has moved away from an ideal, egalitarian kind of socialism. "This view reflects the lack of a powerful urge for rapid development, industrialisation and for a better quality of life. Some people have even ridiculed the Chinese people's craze for such things as refrigerators and washing machines. But there is a need to have all these things, the aspiration for a better quality of life. It's a very powerful ingredient of social consciousness. You can't say consumerism itself is bourgeois consciousness."
"Some advocate some kind of egalitarian society, less inequality, saying this in itself is a good, ideal socialism ... But we are never comfortable with the poverty interpretation of socialism."
While recognising that the lack of socialist democracy is a fundamental problem in Chinese society, Sivaraman noted it was a problem shared by many post-revolutionary states. He said his party dissociates itself from any suggestion that China is a totalitarian state.
"How democracy and the restriction of democracy operate in the Chinese context should be measured against Chinese tradition and the political continuity after 1949", Sivaraman told Green Left Weekly. "In a political organism, things like democracy and debate will have different forms of expression. For people who are used to bourgeois media and a bourgeois political system, it's hard for them to understand what's going on in China."
On bureaucratism in China, Sivaraman said: "You can't say you have an ideal, non-bureaucratised kind of socialism, based purely on people's enthusiasm and involvement, and having a strong popular role in socialist construction. Such models remain in books, in theory, but practically, it's not coming about. In any system, you need powerful administrative structures. You cannot do without bureaucracy, though you need to be very conscious of bureaucratism."
Sivaraman rejects Leon Trotsky's and Ernest Mandel's critique of bureaucratism. He charges that they are an excessive extrapolation and demonisation of a purely political struggle between Trotsky and Stalin. "In the case of China, we dissociate ourselves from such extreme criticisms."
"We reject the 'original sin' theory that some propagate about China, which asserts that things had gone wrong even before 1949, dating the 'original sin' back to 1924 ... That has led people to a certain interpretation of China's socialist market economy today, by just updating the framework.
"We are convinced that it is still socialism in China today. If tomorrow something happens in China as it happened in the USSR under Gorbachev, we would change our assessment."
Sivaraman said his party would have no hesitation in openly criticising China if it does something wrong like joining the US in condemning India for its nuclear tests.
"The CPI-ML criticised the Indian government, saying it shouldn't go for the nuclear option now. But at the same time, we tell the five nuclear powers, including China, to mind their own business", said Sivaraman. "We are not for unilateral disarmament, we are for universal disarmament. We are in favour of keeping the option open for a Third World country."
Third World solidarity
The fact that China is a Third World country is a factor that the CPI-ML gives significant weight to in assessing the twists and turns in its socialist construction. "You can start from an ideal framework and evaluate the actually existing socialism and reject it. We start from the actually existing socialism and examine how it evolves.
"We take a very broad view ... of even the feudal kind of socialism, like that promoted by Kim Il Sung, where an emperor tries to build some kind of socialism. We start from the reality and try to demarcate ourselves on the theoretical positions. Theoretically, we don't say [Yugoslavia, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba] form a socialist bloc and the principal contradiction in the world today is between socialism and capitalism. The principal contradiction is between imperialism and the Third World."
"We are very realistic about socialist China as a Third World country — our Third World solidarity is very strong. The radical circles in the West excessively criticise China with an idealist framework. We don't share that."
[This is the third in a series of articles about the CPI-ML. The first, on the party's views on the Indian left, appeared in GLW #392 and the second, on the issues of armed struggle, the USSR and nationalism, appeared in #393.]