what is a state? it is not just a supreme ruler and a set of mindless zombies who are obedient slaves, carrying out that ruler’s wishes.
in Tunisia during the so-called Arab Spring, what was the difference between the first officer from the old ruling regime to defect to the revolution (and the unit that defected with them) and all subsequent officers (and their units)? each sub-commander (along with their unit) is obedient to the chief commander for personal motivations and personal ideological commitments and convictions. they can and will have their minds changed by various processes. there is variation in all things in nature, and change is ceaseless.
if, in 1979, 15 more countries had suddenly gone socialist, would the remnants of the Maoist-sympathizing forces–suddenly willing to risk being executed for it–have been able to re-detonate a cultural revolution, calling upon the masses to re-bombard the headquarters?
what would that look like? first, we have to recognize both that there obviously is a minimum amount of state power, a quantum of it, necessary to detonate a cultural revolution, and also that clearly it isn’t necessary to control the entirety of state power to detonate a cultural revolution, either, because Mao did not have omnipotent state power when he detonated the GPCR.
so isn’t it possible that some Maoist captain who had successfully passed through whatever purges Deng made (i really have no idea of the specific changes Deng made upon immediately taking office, though a comrade supplied this PDF as having some details on that) could have seized a radio station, presented a plea to re-activate the cultural revolution in light of the recent wave of communist revolutions, and swept the revisionists back out of power? maybe, but the longer Deng remained in power, the farther and farther down the state structure the remaining principled Maoist forces could be found–until the last minimum-unit-of-state-power-necessary-for-detonating-a-cultural-revolution flipped to never being willing to undertake a cultural revolution.
and that was that–after that point, there was no one in the Communist Party of China willing to detonate a cultural revolution who had the power to do so, meaning that bourgeois dictatorship had completely returned–meaning that the only way for China to return of socialism is if the current government is overthrown and replaced with one that is willing to keep detonating cultural revolutions until communism.
* * *
what does it mean for a socialist country to go state capitalist?
well, to use and simplify the model presented in “Rethinking Socialism,” throughout the base there are overall-bourgeoisifying projects and overall-proletarianizing projects. these are constantly having their effects both on the masses and on members of the party. (for something i wrote to try to go into more detail on the psychological process of bourgeoisification, see here.)
if the “ratio” of these two types of projects is in favor of bourgeoisifying projects, then sooner or later, the quantitative, the sheer number of lieutenants and generals and factory managers and party members having been bourgeoisified, will lead to a qualitative shift, a tipping point, such that (a) there is a base of support for a bourgeoisified individual to become head of state, and (b) that head of state in turn acts back upon the party as a whole to make it acceptable to further alter the ratio in the base in favor of more rapid and deep bourgeoisification.
and that’s that–after that point, both the base and the party are both influences for bourgeoisification, and nothing imaginable barring a truly extreme external influencing factor could empower still-proletarian elements in the state to detonate a cultural revolution to sweep out the capitalist roaders at every level, proletarianizing both sufficiently many economic projects and political institutions that the prevailing tendency is then of proletarianization.
obviously this will never happen in the abstract. the decisions are of the type, “ah, this education program can get cut. ah, no, this incentive program is okay.” it is not always 100% clear to all people making the decision whether a given project is overall proletarianizing or overall bourgeoisifying. and of course, deciding the ratio of proletarianizing projects to bourgeoisifying projects isn’t the only thing a state does. a state also is a direct influencer of ideology in itself, by publicly declaring the correctness of various lines.
capitalism is not some timeless default–but the reason a socialist country can slip so easily back into capitalism currently, without a social revolution, is that to survive in a mostly capitalist world means to produce commodities to sell to the sea of capitalist countries that surround any given socialist country. merely to survive, a socialist country must incorporate many projects into its base that will bourgeoisify its population and its party. the converse simply isn’t true of any capitalist countries, so it simply couldn’t happen in reverse. and the last socialist country to emerge in the world will have a vastly easier time consolidating itself and will require very few bourgeoisifying projects because there will be very little impetus for it to engage in commodity production–it will be able to trade with dozens if not hundreds of socialist countries, all of which have a vested interest in seeing the last bit of soil consolidated in having a solidly and overwhelmingly proletarianizing base and solidly proletarian politics in command.
the MLM argument isn’t that Deng, some random capitalist roader who sprung from thin air, won an election alone and bamboozled a sea of otherwise proletarian-minded people who made up the rest of the state. it’s that his attaining the chairmanship was the point of inflection of a much broader process of bourgeoisification that had also already won over lots of guns to him and the project he represented, and in turn consolidated that bourgeoisification and accelerated it.
Edit (2016 09 09 0304 CDT):
To clarify, when I say someone in the party can “detonate a cultural revolution,” this is not to say that the party can merely urge the masses to undertake a cultural revolution if there is no mass demand for a proletarianization of the party, other institutions, and society at large. The party can do what it likes, and without such a mass demand there will be no cultural revolution.
However, the more the party and other institutions become bourgeoisified, the sharper the contradictions in society become, which for a people living in a revolutionary society will be intolerable, so in all times when a restoration of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie has become likely, there will likely also be mass support for cultural revolution to eject “those within the Party who are in authority and are taking the capitalist road.”
Edit (2016 11 29 1028 CST):
Here’s a really excellent quote that I think is also helpful for anyone trying to understand this question:
“It is impossible for some classless group of “bureaucrats” to rule society in the name of the proletariat, because in order to maintain such rule these “bureaucrats” must organize the production and distribution of goods and services. If bureaucratic methods of doing this prevail and come to politically characterize the planning process under socialism; and if a group of bureaucrats, divorced from and not relying upon the masses, makes the decisions on how to carry out this process; then inevitably this will be done along capitalist lines.
In the final analysis, the revisionists can only fall back on the law of value as the “lever” which organizes production. They must reduce the workers to propertyless proletarians, competing in the sale of their single commodity—their labor power—to live. They must appeal to the narrow self-interest of the worker in this competition, backing this up with the power of the state, as a force standing above and oppressing the workers, a weapon in the hands of the owners of the means of production. They must do this because they must find some way to organize production which they cannot do consciously in a planned way by themselves. They have no choice but to become a new bourgeoisie.”
— “How Capitalism Has Been Restored in the Soviet Union and What This Means for the World Struggle” (1974), quoted in The Science of Revolution