A fatal criticism of the anarchist road to communism based on the necessity of the party in order for society to transform itself after the revolution

When we are discussing differences between Marxism and anarchism, we are talking about how to move from our current, incredibly crooked society, to one where the culture and material environment make it so that literally all humans are raised so that there is no major discrepancy between what will lead to their own personal flourishing and what will lead to the flourishing of the rest of humanity. that’s definitely a long-term project. nonetheless, i think what happened in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and the kinds of changes that we saw then, were the closest humanity had ever come to that fundamentally new type of society.

i think that the changes that have to take place require a party.

i think this because the changes that must happen to make this new world a reality cannot happen without an apparatus that the lowest and the deepest sections of the old society can make their own and use to push all of society through the material and ideological restructuring necessary to abolish the mechanisms that had formerly perpetuated their oppression. we need a coordinated way to do that, to collectively gather an understanding of our problems and then apply it to every part of society

no anarchist school of thought proposes a mechanism for this kind of holographic, top-to-bottom self-conscious alteration of society led by the most oppressed. all the anarchism i’ve ever heard of would de facto leave local variations in power among the people virtually unchanged. i believe these inequalities are the seeds of a return to capitalism, both in the way they do not challenge ideological and social hegemonies of some segments of the population over others (e.g., men over non-men, those who have been trained to do intellectual labor over those who were trained only to do manual labor) but also in the way they also disallow a coordinated and unified change of the physical, built environment.

additional verbiage:

without a party, the ongoing class struggle necessary even after the revolution cannot be systematically undertaken. A party is necessary to continuously collect the ideas of each and every part of the proletariat, especially the lowest and deepest sections, so that the proletariat has the best, fullest possible understanding of itself. Only with this comprehensive, all-around, full-spectrum, top-to-bottom picture of itself can the proletariat consciously remake itself and the world, both physically and culturally, to proceed ever more fully toward communism.

more verbiage:

in general there are two different conceptions of what it really means for the state to disappear going on in anarchist thinking vs. Marxist thinking.

anarchists imagine that the deal with wanting statelessness is “there’s somebody out there who wants to tell me what to do, and i’m not gonna do it.” this is in fact a capitalist/liberal notion of statelessness based on the idea of lone individuals getting hounded for scientifically inexplicable reasons and the idea that the masses out there are somehow prone to oppress.

the Marxist idea of statelessness recognizes that we have to take all the world as a global system and cure the whole thing of the patterns that lead to oppression, which–because the patterns of oppression prevailing in each part of the world are extremely historically entangled with the patterns of oppression prevailing in each other part of the world–requires gathering understandings from the whole world in order to transform each and every last part. we won’t get free by just little bits withdrawing here and there and them running their own show–we’ll get free by transforming everywhere into a well-functioning and cooperative and harmonious whole.

so, anarchism is like “let’s withdraw so no one oppresses me.” communism is like, “let’s dissolve the very root that leads to oppression to begin with, and we won’t need to “withdraw” because we will dissolve the distinction between withdrawer and withdrawee.

one of the most obvious examples of the necessity here is in coordinating reparations from imperialist “centers” to the previously most heavily exploited “peripheries.” such a complicated task will without a doubt require global coordination, but in fact the true eradication of white supremacy and patriarchy from every spot in the heart of every human being on earth will require even more subtle, complex, and elaborate coordination.

for a little bit more elaboration on this process, check out “The role of the people’s party under socialism in the masses’ conscious transformation of themselves: A metaphor with holograms”

for some brilliant discussion about what the economic transformations that must be undertaken in order to completely abolish structural inequality would look like, and what we have learned about how concretely to undertake them from the experience of socialism in China, check out “Capitalist and Maoist Economic Development”

for some equally brilliant discussion about the shortcomings of even the most thoughtful anarchist proposals for post-capitalist economics, check out the PCR-RCP’s “The Myth of Self-Management”

Why I think the people were genuinely in power in the socialist countries of the twentieth century, and why these examples reveal the route forward for humanity

If the challenges of constructing a socialist society and economy [in the early Soviet Union] were formidable, the achievements were truly remarkable. A new mode of production which neither rested on exploitation nor experienced the destructive economic crises of capitalist market forces was established. A modern socialist industrial base and a system of collectivized agriculture were created. A central planning mechanism was able to give overall direction to economic development. It was a system of planning that made it possible to rapidly expand aggregate industrial capacity, to promote the development of the more backward republics and regions, and to marshal resources and capabilities on a monumental scale as part of the heroic effort to defeat German imperialism (1500 major factories were relocated eastward in the span of a few weeks). The slogan of the First Five Year Plan was “we are building a new world,” and millions of workers and peasants, especially during the late 1920s and early 1930s, were fired with a spirit of “storming the heavens” and doing this for the cause of world revolution.

The collectivization drive ignited a genuine upheaval against centuries-old authority, tradition, and oppression in the countryside. The old educational system was overhauled and opened up to the masses, and young workers were mobilized as a social force to confront the old and hidebound. Artists, writers, and other cultural workers chronicled the great changes taking place in society, and an art to serve the revolution was struggled for and debated over. And the new workers’ state gave support to and helped to formulate the line for revolutionary struggles throughout the world. In all, these were real and historic accomplishments.

Lotta, “Introduction,” in Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism: The Shanghai Textbook.

A friend of mine asked me whether I think any socialist revolution ever achieved its intended goal. Below was my attempt to tell him why I think the answer is “yes.”

It’s a pretty good summary of why I think anyone looking for a way out of capitalism should look to the socialist countries of the twentieth century for answers. Comrades should feel encouraged to criticize or add to my response.

I can safely say that I think the answer is “yes” for the Soviet and Chinese revolutions–for the Soviet revolution from 1917 to 1956 or so, and for the Chinese revolution from 1949 to 1978 or so.

According to the Marxist understanding of history, ever since the emergence of class society around 15,000 years ago (in some places), society has been a dictatorship of one class over the rest of classes. “Dictatorship” here means that one class–as a class–gets what it wants, and no law or any other contrivance stands in it way. Marx and Engels theorized that in order to bring about an end to class society, the proletariat and its allies–the other toiling classes, mainly the peasantry-would have to seize power and, using all available tools, reconstruct society so that there was no class distinction anymore, and all economic decisions would be made not according to what profited some specific subset of individuals but truly by all of society collectively through a democratic process. The result would be communism, a stateless, classless, moneyless society.

The question then is whether or not these postrevolutionary societies were dictatorships of the proletariat moving in the direction of communism. I think the answer is yes for all of these countries. I think a fairly productive way to think about these questions is to pull out the metaphor of “motion toward” communism. In this metaphor, we could say that the initial revolutions were accelerating factors, imparting a good deal of momentum in the direction of communism, but that at a certain point for all of these countries, they slowed and then began sliding backward toward capitalism.

We know that these revolutions were more than just coups–they involved tens or hundreds of millions of people who were consciously changing their society, reorganizing almost every aspect of it, from the way the political system was structured, to the way production was undertaken (it became more collective and democratic), to the relations between men and nonmen and between adults and children.

In ascending order, these are the reasons I think it’s fair to say that a dictatorship of the proletariat was achieved:

1. On a very material level, the very broad masses began to receive the prerequisites for acting as a self-conscious political power–a high-quality, all-around education, as well as the universal guarantee of basic needs. (https://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/do-publicly-owned-planned-economies-work/) It seems unthinkable that every single individual in a society (besides self-declared enemies of the communist project) would be given these things if the intention was to continue subjugating some specific subsection of it.

2. There was a stark reduction in economic inequality, significantly undermining one of the main roots of class society: the ability for some subset of society to use its resources to bribe (or pay off, or “hire,” or whatever) others to help control the rest of society.

3. There were very deep social changes that came about, indicating that the radical participation of the broad masses was underway. Some big things I can think of are the abolition of beauty contests, mass participation in communal living arrangements, and worker self-management in workplaces. To some extent it’s hard to quantitatively measure “mass participation” and “trans-valuation of societal values,” but I think these things as symptoms speak volumes.

4. Speaking only of the Chinese revolution here, the fact that the cultural revolution was able to be launched at all, and in fact that it was carried through to a large degree. In my opinion, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is the high point in all of human history. Here’s the rundown on it: the Soviet Union had started to slide back toward capitalism. That became obvious to people in China. The USSR began to act like an imperialist power, and seemed to be prioritizing military and economic power on the international scene over the preservation of a thoroughgoing and deeply-rooted democratic character to their society. Seeing this, and seeing that the same bureaucratization and stagnation had also begun to take root in their own society, the Maoist wing of the Chinese leadership launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, whose most prominent motto was “bombard the [party] headquarters.”

The GPCR was a call for the Chinese people to take courage and call out party officials who had become corrupt, factory managers who had begun to usurp power to themselves, university administrators who had begun to act with interests contrary to the democratically controlled education of the students, and so on–and though it had many flaws in its execution, it was very successful in many places. I think the GPCR is proof that additional acceleration in the direction toward communism can (and must) be imparted after the initial revolutionary push.

That being the case, I think it is also proof that we can get there–that we can overcome capitalism once and for all and abolish class. This is a very insightful document on the GPCR, if you’re interested, including criticisms of its failures, shortcomings, excesses, etc.: http://www.mlmrsg.com/attachments/article/72/CRpaper-Final.pdf

That document also explains better than I could what went wrong in the Soviet Union and, ultimately, in China itself. The quickest way to put it is that the USSR never really had a cultural revolution, and the PRC had theirs too late to save their dictatorship of the proletariat.

For whatever it’s worth, the following is a list of books from a reddit comment, offered as sources for people looking for further evidence on this question.

Why the USSR was socialist under Stalin:
The Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR by Martin Nicolaus.
The Need for Planning by Joseph Ball.
An Introduction to Stalin by Bruce Franklin.
Another View of Stalin by Ludo Martens.
Class Struggles in the USSR, First and Second Period by Charles Bettelheim.
Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR by Joseph Stalin.
Reassessing the History of Soviet Workers: Opportunities to Criticize and Participate in Decision-Making and Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia by Robert Thurston
State and Society under Stalin: Constitution and Elections in the 1930s and Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives by J. Arch Getty

Why China was socialist under Mao:
Fundamentals of Political Economy by FPE Working Group
China’s Industrial Revolution by Stephen Andors
Fanshen by William Hinton
The Chinese Road to Socialism by E. L. Wheelwright and Bruce McFarlane
China’s Economy and the Maoist Strategy by John Gurley
Chinese Economic Development by Chris Bramall
The Battle for China’s Past by Mobo Gao
Evaluating the Cultural Revolution in China and its Legacy for the Future by MLMRSG
Cultural Revolution and Industrial Organization in China by Charles Bettelheim

Why Albania was socialist under Hoxha:
Pickaxe and Rifle by William Ash