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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Regimes in USSR and China were harsh forms of State Capitalism

(This is the translation of a part of interview with Prof. Chaitanya Mishra, compiled for its relevance to the theme of this issue. The complete interview can be read in Nepali here).

Regardless of their vices and virtues, the fact is that when the communists throughout the world today look for a model of the state they would lead, USSR and China inevitably come into picture. Marxism gives a philosophical and theoretical framework but for practical issues they have to depend on the model of communist regimes that were once viable.

At the time of formation of USSR itself, Rosa Luxemburg had argued that one-party state was likely to promote absolute centralism and not democratic centralism. Without doubt, she was right. When all the power is concentrated in the party, the dissenting voices become fewer and fewer for fear of retribution from the high command. When some people in the party dare question the leadership, they are suppressed, often brutally. This process had taken hold during the tenure of Lenin himself but it was amplified and perpetuated throughout the long tenure of Stalin. Things went so far that the central committee of Soviet Communist Party did have to order  killings of people. That process is the result of a system in which democratic ethos are absent. That was a situation in which the society was dominated by a party for a long time and the party was in turn dominated by a single leader who ruled the state until his death.

Frankly speaking, socialism in its absolute sense was impossible then and is impossible now too. USSR was merely a version of state capitalism. The state centralized the means of production and mobilized them to develop infrastructure projects like roads, electricity and heavy machinery relatively efficiently. Even in Mao's rule it was the capitalism led by the representative of the proletariat, the state, which was promoted rather than an end to capitalism itself.

But the problem was, over time, the efficiency of the state-owned corporations declined because of two factors. First was the choice of leaders for the top job of these corporations which was guided by interests of the leadership rather than efficiency. Such managers were unlikely to use the resources optimally and get things done efficiently. Second was the lack of incentives for the workers. From the time of Khruschev himself, these signs of weakness had appeared in the Soviet economy. They went on accumulating and led to the eventual collapse of USSR itself in 1991.

Coming to the specific developments like the Stalinist purge or the Mao's Cultural Revolution, they were the result of excessive centralization of power, as has been already mentioned. I think, they were the logical sequel of the system. Moreover, both the developments served the purpose of silencing the dissent within the party. Particularly in China, the Cultural Revolution did evolve in a backdrop of challenge to Mao's leadership by Deng Xiao Ping and others in the aftermath of failure of collectivization drives.

Now let's come to the attitude of today's communists to the communist regimes in the past in general and these two developments in particular. Regardless of their vices and virtues, the fact is that when the communists throughout the world look for a model of the state they would lead, USSR and China inevitably come into picture. Marxism gives a philosophical and theoretical framework but for practical issues they have to depend on the model of communist regimes that were once viable. It is in this pretext that the attitude of Nepali communists towards the past communist regimes and the developments like the Stalinist purge and Cultural Revolution has to be understood.

One thing is that, once a public pronouncement or commitment is made, it is exceedingly difficult to rescind it, whatever the circumstances, just like the case with religious beliefs. Why take the issues of remote past like Stalin's rule that are like the Mecca for communists, it is utterly difficult for Nepali communists even to change their official position that Nepal is a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society.  Of late, the dissent has overflown in leading communist parties of Nepal like the CPN (UML) and UCPN (Maoist) but not long ago, these parties were in the iron-grip of the general secretary. I have observed that the latest policy document by the chairman of UCPN (Maoist) incorporates many new things, but at the same time, fails to remove the old ones. This shows the dilemma of our communist parties: the cadres have been trained accordingly, party documents written accordingly and even the brains trained accordingly thus making a change of stance exceedingly difficult. 

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