To help find why a communist party still rules in China while socialism collapsed in Russia a generation ago, I’ll examine the differing cultural and historical factors that caused these two countries to take such variant political paths.
A major reason why the USSR collapsed while the People’s Republic of China has remained is that the USSR abandoned many facets of its earlier structure as a workers state during the Khrushchev era, while the PRC has kept its socialist governmental structure. In this case of how the historical paths of these two countries diverged, the key comparison to make is the one between the Khrushchev reforms and China’s Deng reforms.
When they moved to incorporate more private business into their countries, Nikita Khrushchev and Deng Xiaoping were both responding to the economic obstacles and outside political threats that they faced as leaders of socialist states. The basic aims of both of them were to spur economic development, and to make peace with the hostile capitalist world. But Khrushchev executed this in a way that weakened the structure of the Soviet Union’s proletarian democracy, and there were historical factors that enabled Khrushchev to restore capitalism to the extent that he did. These factors pertain to the very culture of Russian society at that time.
The USSR’s workers state was so vulnerable to being dismantled by capitalist interests because Stalin and the other preceding Soviet leaders hadn’t sufficiently carried out a cultural revolution within Russia. Stalin largely relied on sections within the Soviet bureaucracy to keep the anti-communist forces in check, rather than unleashing a mass movement to uproot anti-communism within the broader institutional and cultural structures.
Mao, in contrast, carried out a cultural revolution that involved a nationwide sociopolitical movement. He had his supporters purge the remnants of capitalist and traditional society within China, which made the country after Mao’s death much less compatible with the kind of capitalist restoration that Khrushchev carried out. Mao recognized that in order to create a good environment for socialism to survive, society had to be changed on a more fundamental level than was the case for post-revolutionary Russia.
Upon observing this, it can be argued that socialism collapsed in Russia-while China, the DPRK, Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos are still run by communist parties-because Russia was unable to shake off the cultural aspects of the Czar era that made its society less compatible with communism. This may be because Czarist Russia was an imperialist power, while all of these surviving socialist countries were being subjugated by imperialism prior to their socialist revolutions.
While there are legitimate criticisms to make of Stalin, he alone can’t be blamed for the corrosion that occurred within Russia’s socialist experiment. He was one individual, and there were numerous factors beyond his control. Even decades after the 1917 Russian revolution, there were many obstacles towards communism embedded in Russian society, ones that ran too deep for Stalin to foresee where they would lead.
If a socialist revolution were to happen in the United States or any other imperialist country, it would need to be followed by a cultural revolution on the same level that Mao carried out. This is why decolonization, not just communism, is essential for revolutionaries in the U.S. to work towards. The counter-revolutionary effects of capitalism and imperialism will need to be thoroughly worked against, even after the U.S. government itself has been overthrown.
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