In his work Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx took his objection to the analysis of some other communists as an opportunity to put forth an analysis of what needs to happen within communist development. At least in regards to the means of production, this analysis consists of the following ideas:
-That labor is not the source of all wealth; even without labor, we would have the wealth that nature gives us. Therefore, whether society has wealth doesn’t necessarily stem from whether labor is present.
-That there’s a difference between “labor” as it’s defined under the capitalist means of production, and labor as it would be defined under fully developed communism. Whereas labor under capitalism centers around business and the acquisition of property, labor under fully developed communism would not involve these things.
As Marx articulates this: “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
The steps towards such an outcome include the abolition of money and the abolition of the state, which reinforce the capitalist model of production. As Marx implies, such a shift would not take away society’s wealth and prosperity. It would only take away the inequalities that the capitalist model of production creates.
Under the capitalist model of production, the fact that people have different productive capacities makes them bound to become unequal. This is what he means by “bourgeois right”; the ability which the capitalist model of production gives individuals to unequally accrue resources. As Marx says, this right “tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege.”
During the initial stage of a socialist revolution, where the state and money haven’t yet been abolished, the bourgeois right is still recognized, because the capitalist model of production hasn’t yet been phased out. The workers now control the means of production, but they haven’t so far replaced it. As Marx writes, “What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”
This facet in the steps towards communism, where Marx acknowledges that capitalism needs to be developed beyond in increments, applies to current events within the countries that are governed by Marxist-Leninist parties. Events that pertain to a crucial debate within today’s global communist movement: whether or not a communist party allowing private businesses to exist under its governance is revisionist.
The five modern socialist states China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea all allow private businesses within their borders to differing extents. And to the ire of some factions within the communist movement, China and Cuba in particular have responded to the imperialist sabotage of their economies by economically opening up. After Mao’s death, China decided to utilize markets to grow its economy (an approach that’s been behind the lifting of 850 million Chinese out of poverty, according to the research of Peking University’s Yao Yang). And this year, Cuba opened up its economy to private businesses to alleviate the costs of the pandemic and of U.S. sanctions.
The communist faction that believes Cuba’s economic policies to be revisionist is significant, at least enough to considerably impact mainstream thought within the movement. Marxists.org, which describes itself as the “Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line,” features a 1983 article titled Cuba: What Went Wrong? It claims that it’s “clear that the Cuba of today is not a revolutionary country,” citing in part Cuba’s economic dysfunction and the consequential woes regarding the country’s living standards.
No doubt the “anti-revisionist” camp holds the same view of today’s Cuba in light of its recent reforms, as this camp continues to frequently decry modern China for its own utilizations of markets. But just as was the case in the 1980s, this camp is wrong. The central basis for the “anti-revisionist” position—and for the 1983 Cuba article’s argument—is that the Soviet Union became not just revisionist, but “social imperialist,” and that Cuba in turn became a sugar colony for this imperialism. According to the article, this made Cuba’s leadership complicit in a neo-colonial project, indicating that it’s willing to betray Marxism in other ways.
But this characterization of the USSR’s socioeconomic role, which these “anti-revisionists” now apply to China with their accusations of the PRC engaging in “neo-colonialism,” is erroneous when directed at both countries. Neither fit the criteria for Lenin’s definition of imperialism, nor for the type of definition that one can apply in the 21st century. The PRC lacks the characteristic of a monopoly capitalist class that’s crucial for a country to be imperialist in the era of capitalism, as did the USSR.
This is why those who seek to paint existing socialism as “revisionist” hold tightly to the narrative about Soviet and Chinese imperialism; without it, their argument holds no theoretical or historical weight. There’s a difference between the actually revisionist domestic policies of the USSR’s post-Stalin leadership—which actively weakened the state’s role as an instrument of class struggle—and the policies of the modern socialist countries, which retain the proletariat dictatorship model laid down by Lenin and Stalin. Xi Jinping himself has stated that the post-Stalin USSR made a fatal mistake in abandoning the parameters provided by Marxism-Leninism. And the structure of today’s Communist Party of China continues to follow these parameters, despite the misleading attempts from the “anti-revisionists” to paint the party as controlled by capitalists.
When you peel back the misleading accusations of “social imperialism,” and of communist parties serving as fronts for capitalist oligarchies, you find that the existing communist countries are merely following in the path that Marx explained will be necessary for reaching communism: retain the capitalist model of production during the initial stage, and make that model extinct when the conditions allow for it. In the current conditions of imperialism, where all attempts to build communism are perpetually under siege, the state needs to be utilized by revolutionaries. This is the basis for Marxism-Leninism.
And so long as a communist party doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the Soviet leadership, it can utilize markets without being revisionist. Given Cuba’s current conditions, where the imperialists are weaponizing the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis to incite counterrevolutionary sabotage within the country, utilizing markets could turn out to be the country’s route out of counterrevolution. Because if market reforms have been indispensable for bringing China out of poverty, they’ll likely be indispensable for improving Cuba’s conditions, and therefore for weakening the leverage of the imperialists. They’ll also help address the legitimate internal shortcomings with Cuba’s economic model that the “anti-revisionists” have seized upon.
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