Successful Revolutions?

Successful Revolutions?

Critique of the fetish for "success" by online Stalinists.

The internet left is a strange place. All kinds of strange arguments are advanced by strange adherents of tendencies morphed by internet culture. This includes internet "Marxist-Leninists" (read Stalinists) arguing that only "they" have had something called a "successful revolution". What are "successful revolutions"? Well, according to internet Marxist-Leninists, the communist party controlled states of the 20th century are indications of the success of the tendency they subscribe to in fomenting social revolution, be it in the Russian, Chinese, or Cuban Revolutions. They are successful because they created long-lasting regimes out of the overthrow of the old authorities which provided for their populations through social programs and carried out development.

Since no other tendency of left radicalism has produced the kind of results produced by "Marxist-Leninists" in the 20th century along these lines, Marxism-Leninism is clearly objectively superior. This argument lays bare what "Marxism-Leninism" in the 21st century really is. Rather than being a living analytic and strategic approach to fomenting progressive social change in this century it is clinging to nostalgia for dear life. We will come back to this point, but first, let us examine the Marxist-Leninist claims to "success".

After the repression of the 1848 revolutions, within the modern, global left, which had formed out of it's ashes, there was a debate over how this organized movement should go about changing society. Some of them argued that militant struggle should be used to create radical socio-cultural change and that the state, the main political institution of the modern world, should be completely opposed on account of it's elitist nature. Others argued that the movement, representing the oppressed strata, should take over the state and use it's power to crush conservative forces and carry out social change. Populations generally hoped that the latter section of the left was right. The states were the main political structures of the world and so using their centralized power to confront complex situations produced by the collision and accumulation of social forces seemed most expedient. The strategy adopted by the mainstream left thus became a two-step strategy; take state power and use it to change society.

At the very end of the 19th century the Marxist movement in the form of the national, socialist parties in Europe began to gain some success in Parliaments. Occasioned by the First World War the Marxist movement split between the "socialists" and "communists" after the Bolsheviks who split off from the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party took power over the former Tsarist Empire in 1917 holding it out during a bloody civil war into the early 20s to create the Soviet Union. Thus the two-step strategists had achieved some success, but from a world perspective it was still negligible. This changed after WW2 when communists took power in states and national independence struggles replaced formal colonialism with new independent states, all around the world. Despite the collapse of the socialist international as a result of it's parties' support for WW1 socialist parties after WW2 were able to insert themselves into the revolving door of Parliament and elections.

The two-step strategists of the left had thus achieved the first step of their strategy, taking state power, all across the world. We could dwell on the fact that it was not just the communist "Marxist-Leninist" movements that achieved this, but also national liberation and electoral socialist movements, but for now, we will concede to the Marxist-Leninists that in the 20th century the tendency they subscribe to achieved major success across the world. The problem is that however big a success achieving the first step of the two-step strategy was, the second step was the important one. The communists now needed to use state power to change society.

Anyone who looks around at the world today can tell that the "success" in this department was little to none. The modern world is still a capitalist world, with a capitalist world-economy. Having taken power during a period of ascendance for this world-economy in the state structures which existed to facilitate that ascendance the communists (as well as national liberationists and socialists) had no choice, but concede to the dominant economic processes and their attendant geopolitical order. The communist states did this by using protectionism to give themselves advantages on the world-market and integrated their populations through social services (welfare states). This was in fact the policy of every other state in the capitalist world, in the west it was called "development", in the communist states it was called "socialism".

This "socialism" did nothing to fundamentally alter the inequality and polarization inherent to to the capitalist world-system. This is because state socialism was not something outside that system, it was a set of states fallowing policies of state intervention into the capitalist world-market. This is what produced critiques of state communism as "state-capitalism", but more importantly, led to the world revolution of 1968 that not only criticized the United States as the hegemonic power of the time, but also the establishment "old left" of the socialist/communist parties and national liberation movements. The 68 rebels criticized the old left, including the communist parties and states, for having become part of the world-order rather than changing it. This movement, along with a crises of overproduction in the world-economy, outmoded "development" as a way of integrating populations and intervening in the world-market. Development was replaced by neoliberalism and the Soviet Union collapsed.

Marxism-Leninism was indeed extraordinarily successful in the taking of state power across the world. It was completely unsuccessful in using that power to change society because the premise that it hoped was true, that state power could be used for social change, turned out to be untrue. It is true that the success of the Marxist-Leninists produced a world-redistribution of wealth which was used to integrate the lower strata into the social order (meaning pacify it with concessions). However, the Marxist-Leninists only accomplished this along with the cumulative efforts of other movements, both others that took state power in the 20th century and others that didn't. In addition, and more importantly, this redistribution did not constitute real social change, rather it was how capitalism adapted to and overcame the threat of rebellious populations. It is on this basis that Wallerstein makes the observation that state socialism contributed more than even today's multinational corporations to the world-development of the law of value; capitalism's primary accumulation mechanism.

When the Marxist-Leninists online call back to the historic "success" of Marxism-Leninism they are in reality trying to recast dismal failure as success. The collapse of the Soviet Union was demoralizing for the world left, even those critical of it. In an age of political disenfranchisement in which even the left movements that cropped up in response to neoliberalism and globalization have become divided over old debates and new problems it is no doubt extremely tempting to do what the Marxist-Leninists do. We can wipe away the complex obstacles facing a 21st century left project simply by recasting state communism as an enormous success because of the achievement of state power and developmentalist economic policies. All this is, however, is a recasting. Dressing up dismal failure as dizzying success, lying to oneself.

This would be strategically and analytically bereft even if state communism stood any chance of resurgence, but it clearly doesn't. State communism's biggest success story after the fall of the USSR has been China. It's strategy to avoid the kind of collapse faced by the Soviet Union was to introduce market liberalizations. In so doing it has become the world's factory and thus a world power. These same internet Marxist-Leninists have in large numbers latched on to China because of this. China is said to be the modern socialist powerhouse. It has carried out historic poverty reduction and has challenged the US geopolitically. It seems rather obvious, however, that supplying the world-market with commodities and becoming a haven for business is capitalism, not socialism, communist party in power, or not. Capitalism, as we know, comes with increasing polarization. Mark Blyth thus points out that while China's poverty reduction has been historic it has been a completely insignificant percentage when compared to global inequality.1

The fact that China, like the Soviet Union and every other communist state ever to exist, is nothing more, or less, than a nation-state of the capitalist world-economy means that it's fortunes are tied to that economy. As such when the global crises of 2008 busted the neoliberal bobble China lead the global recovery with it's "connectivity" approach emphasizing high tech facilitation of global supply chains. Until covid, this brought the country massive global success. Then, this past year, the corona virus spread at "internet speed" through the same same channels of "connectivity", such as increased air travel, that China had lead the way in constructing. The virus, in a testament to the capitalist world-system's period of decline, made mince meat of connectivity scarcely more than two decades after it was implemented. The Chinese dream is over.

Marxism-Leninism, socialism in one country, state communism, state socialism, state-capitalism, Stalinism, whatever you wish to call it, has in fact not had any success in it's most important aim, changing society. It was based on the false premises of the two-step strategy and thus could only fulfill the first step, taking state power. In reality taking state power meant becoming part of the social order the communists were trying to change. The communists did this and in so doing helped capitalism to achieve it's long wave of world ascendance, completely the opposite of sparking it's end. Dealing with the period of decline we face today requires being analytic in our thinking abut past efforts like Marxism-Leninism. None of these efforts have delivered results in terms of fundamental social change. Trying to special plead about "success" is thus only appropriate to the online world of pointless bickering.
1.[url= ] [/url]
Antisystemic Movements, Arrighi, Wallerstein, Hopkins
Marx, Marxism-Leninism, and Socialist Experiences In The Modern World-System, Wallerstein
The Global Left: Past, Present, and Future, Wallerstein
The Rise and Future Demise of The World Capitalist System, Wallerstein
The Modern World-System After The Cold War, Wallerstein
Vanguard of The Revolution, McAdams

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Apr 21 2021 04:35


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