By Tjen Folket, 27.05.2014, before the rectification campaign begun in 2018. Translated by TFM.
Communism is the goal of communists; a classless society based on common ownership and community. The intermediate society between capitalism and communism is socialism.
Moving from primitive communism to the communism of the future
Human history shows us many examples of communist ways of life. For the majority of human history, people lived under a sort of “primitive communism”. In most prehistoric times, tools were usually shared commonly among all the members of the tribe. There were no classes of people, where some worked and others made the decisions. There are still people that live this way today, for example in the Amazon. They live relatively isolated from more developed societies.
This period – which Marx calls primitive communism – was good in many ways but had a fundamental weakness. This weakness was the low level of productivity. Knowledge and tools were so primitive or difficult to make, mend, systemitize and use that people largely lived at the mercy of mother nature. One bad summer and the entire tribe died of hunger. One bad winter and the entire tribe would have to flee. The lack of systemitized knowledge led most people into mysticism and supestition.
This type of communism is not the goal of communists today, but rather a modern communism. A communism based on the advanced production, knowledge and technology that humanity has developed – and continues to develop under a class society.
But also within class societies – or alongside them – people still need to solve a series of problems in a communist way. In congregations, peasant cooperatives, between friends and within families people usually organize around mutualism and cooperation. No one keeps score of friendly favors and volunteer work is very popular. The goal of the communists is quite simply to release these cooperative ways of life and build a society from top to bottom, on the base of this truly human cooperation.
Marx and Lenin define socialism as a necessary transitional phase
The path from capitalism of today to a communist society is through socialism. Between capitalism and communism there must be a transitional phase. Perhaps we can liken this to all the transitional forms we see in nature, for example when a new species evolves from a previously existing one. Marx systemitized our knowledge of the current society. In Marxism, communists have collected his teachings which are just as relevant in the present day:
- Class struggle is the driving force – the motor – that drives human society forward and has the power to uproot old societal forms and bring in new ones.
- Capitalism itself creates the class that is capable of ending capitalism – namely the modern working class; the proletariat.
- Between capitalism and the class less society there is a transitional state that can only be the political dictatorship of the working class.
Dictatorship, as it is commonly understood, is something exercised by a single person. But dictatorship can – and usually is – exercised by a class of people. Since the emergence of class society, with private property and the division of labor; priests, kings and warriors have ruled over slaves and peasants. Here, the ruling class has always exercised its dictatorship over other classes through the state. The state is an instrument of political power. According to Marxism, communism is stateless in the sense that without classes, there will be no political class-dictatorship. But Marx believes that in order for this to happen, the working class must first establish its own state which with its new-found power, crush the old capitalist relations and builds new communist relations. Socialism therefore, has proletarian class-dictatorship as its precondition.
Lenin expanded upon this in the book, “The State and Revolution” and while Marx and Engels often speak of a transitional phase as the first phase of communism, Lenin spoke of this phase as socialism.
Stalin and Mao enriched and expanded upon Marxism’s theory of socialism
Stalin carried the theory of socialism forward by concretizing what Marx, Engels and Lenin also had described, namely that socialism must not only build a political class dictatorship, but also a class dictatorship within production. Stalin says socialist production must build on two forms of socialist property: collective property and state property. An example of collective propety is an enterprise owned by the workers or an agricultural cooperative owned by the peasants. Furthermore he wrote that the main economic law of socialism is the maximum satisfaction of the needs of the people. The Marxist-Leninist definition of socialism is thusly working class dictatorship where production is mainly state or collectively-owned and serves the people.
Mao enriched this theory and developed it further to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, in part by the method of Cultural Revolution. Lenin and Stalin had written about class struggle under socialism and Stalin said that even though the working class had state power, class struggle would not diasppear – it would in fact intensify – but they did not develop methods for this struggle such as Mao did. Mao did a great service to Marxism by showing that class struggle doesn’t just happen in society or in production, but within the communist party itself and the socialist state. Mao showed that under socialism the working class is not only threatened by imperialist invasions or foreign spies. After the consolidation of the workers dictatorship, socialism is first and foremost threatened from within by capitlist roaders in the Communist Party and state organs; the same people Lenin and Stalin called “red bureaucrats”.
Marxism-Leninism defines socialism as a transitional phase between capitalism and communism – but it is first with Mao, the mass line and the cultural revolution that we get highly developed tools for carrying this process forward. Just as Marx had said that class struggle drives society forward, so it is for the class society of socialism.
Some of the major changes under socialism
In the “Communist Manifesto” Marx and Engels list a series of initiatives which the modern socialist countries must perform immediately:
- Expropriation of land property and the use of the basic rate for funding state initiatives.
- A very progressive income tax.
- Abolition of the right of inheritance.
- Confiscation of property from all emigrants and rebels (meaning the property of capitalists that leave the country during the revolution or revolt against socialism).
- Centralization of credit in the hands of the state through a national bank with state capital and an absolute monopoly.
- Centralization of the transportation sector in the hands of the state.
- Increased nationalization of factories and means of production; growth and development of the earth according to a central plan.
- Equal coercion to work for all, establishment of indsutrial armies, especially for agriculture.
- Joining initiatives in agricuture and industry to overcome the contradiction between town and country.
- Free and public child care for all. Abolition of childens factory labor in its current form. Harmony between upbringing and material production, etc.
The Manifesto was published with these points in 1848. Over one hundred and fifty years later, several of these measures are still relevant in many countries. But in all countries, regardless of their level of development, the communists must develop national programs for the revolution and socialism. Our actions must be based on the specific circumstances in the specific countries.
In a country like Norway, it is very important to expand land for agriculture. It is unacceptable for a socialist country to rely on imports as much as the current imperialist Norway. In Norway, most of the food is imported, and most of the industrial goods are as well. Cultivated land per capita has declined dramatically over the last fifty years. A workers’ state in Norway must take control of all the land that today lies fallow and develop a diverse and modern agriculture. Where good soil today grows again and has been left to nature, it must be cultivated and grown so that Norway will be the most self-reliant with food. This is a question both about self-determination, confidence in the people and solidarity with the world’s poorest countries that through social revolutions will free them selves from the perils of producing for consume in the imperialist countries.
It has almost always been difficult for Norway to feed its people. Even in the Middle Ages it was necessary to import food to Norway. A socialist Norway will not be hermetically sealed, and can of course trade goods with other countries. But the goal of maximum self-sufficiency can in today’s modern world, with highly developed tools, technology and knowledge, be more possible than ever.
In a socialist Norway the working class will be the ruling class and the tax system must reflect this. The government must not seize all businesses and all major property in one action, but the workers’ state will tax the ones that can afford it most, the hardest. Socialism will not be like today, where the richest companies with their lawyers and auditors can avoid taxation.
All banks and all bank capital will be taken over by the state, and thus the working class will be able to make an indebted people debt-free. It makes no sense that one should be in debt for life simply to have a roof over one’s head. The new Norway would imply that one can live by one’s own work without putting oneself in bottomless debt to foreign or domestic financial capital, or to the state.
Marx and Engels speak about equal employment coercion – i.e. no longer being able to live off the work of others. This primarily concerns capitalists and paper pushers. It must not be read as an attack on those who due to illness cannot work or cannot work as much as others. But socialism will abolish unemployment and the degrading NAV system (Norwegian welfare and unemployment institution). Everyone in Norway should have the opportunity to contribute through productive work. Those who can not work full days will work shorter days or fewer days. In the current extreme competitive economy capitalists would rather have people unemployed than employees who are not running at peak performance. In socialism it will be better that you do a little than that you do nothing.
Learn from the people’s communes and build people’s power
Otherwise, we can learn from the Chinese people’s communes in the organization of society. The Chinese people’s communes pointed towards communism, since they collected and organized all aspects of human society. People’s communes were political organs of power, they were social welfare institutions and economic production communities. They were a kind of municipality, health care and business in one – controlled by the people. The Chinese people’s communes would consist of between four and twenty thousand households – perhaps between ten and a hundred thousand people. The commune was divided into smaller units and work groups.
Under socialism and in the march towards communism, politics and manufacture will increasingly fall into the people’s own hands. In today’s society a big point is made out of sharing power. But the consequence is that the responsibility is shared so much that no-one has responsibility any longer. People are sent around in endless circles when dealing with the public sector. Nobody can answer questions, and they constantly push tasks and responsibilities around so that some decisions take months and years. In such systems, class oppression and bourgeois power are hidden in mist, while the bourgeoisie get enormous benefits and the poorest with the least resources are left to the bureaucracy’s faceless violence.
Under socialism, the principle is people power and workers’ power, and legislative and executive power will be one. Those elected to represent the people may be withdrawn by the voters, but as long as the people trust them, they have the power both to decide and to act. In peoples wars in Nepal, India and the Philippines, we have seen how people have established people’s governments and people’s courts that can exercise people’s power directly.
When such a system as described here works, people cannot evade work and bureaucrats cannot evade responsibility. Individuals can not abuse their power through corruption and to serve their own interests. For this to work the masses must continually be mobilized to criticize the leaders, to replace the bad bureaucrats and make cultural revolutions against all forms of capitalist and bureaucratic domination.
What is red power and dictatorship of the working class?
A key question is of course what the working class dictatorship actually entails. If a company is state-owned or not, is simple to determine. But whether the state is a working class dictatorship or a bourgeois dictatorship (or bourgeois bureaucracy in red disguise) is more complicated. We often see people who call themselves communists that simply are not able to see this difference. Thus we get parties and individuals who call the Soviet Union up until 1991 socialist or socialists who believe North Korea is socialist today. It is therefore crucial that we can create clarity on this.
Serve the People has formulated as Mao did in his theory on the Protracted People’s War – we must build red power. Red power is the starting point for the revolution and the new state; working class dictatorship. Red power is workers’ power and people’s power, red power is revolutionary power – in other words a power that will overthrow the present capitalist system by challenging the bourgeoisie in all areas; in production, in the relations between people, culture and politics.
The core of the working class dictatorship is state power. The first states arose with the first class societies. These were the power organs of the ruling class – primarily their armed power and the administration of this armed power. Through the ages there have been many different states, but the core has always been what the bourgeois call “monopoly of violence within a given area”. This is also the core of the working class state – to create its monopoly on force. Engels writes that the state is simultaneously part of the class struggle and stands outside it. He describes the state organ as an instrument of the ruling class, but also standing above it. The government’s task under capitalism, as the political form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, does not always side with the individual capitalist but takes joint responsibility for the bourgeoisie as a whole and capitalism as a whole. This is how we get bourgeois states that occasionally run contrary to the immediate interests of the bourgeoisie – and especially certain groups within the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie itself – like all things – is a unity of contradictions. The bourgeois are fighting all the time among themselves. We can affirm that class dictatorships hitherto have usually been exercised by representatives of the ruling class, which are both part of the ruling class and “above it”. Officials, politicians, bureaucrats, parties – have all been given the job of executive political dictatorship on behalf of the ruling class. When we say “above it” we do not mean that they actually stand over the ruling class. Politicians who do not serve the bourgeoisie will not have a long career in a capitalist society.
Although the working class dictatorship must differ radically from the bourgeoisie and even though the workers’ state must be different from top to bottom – and from bottom to top – it will in essence also be both a part of the class struggle and above it. It will consist of representatives and administrators, who although they basically represent the working class, will also develop their own perspectives and interests. They’ll in essence be representatives. As a result of the divisions of labor in society the state will not be a so-called “direct democracy”. Although the Communists will and must mobilize the masses for their own interests, leaders and administrators will still have to make certain decisions.
The Anarchist notion of direct democracy without any state presupposes a world where classes are already completely gone, where there are no capitalist states and no bourgeois military apparatus. A state where all production is directly in the producers hands and where there are no labor divisions between for example intellectual work and manual work. Or in other words – anarchism assumes a direct transition to communism in one stroke and therefore it is just a utopia.
Communists believe that the working class dictatorship is given political form by a workers’ state acting on behalf of the working class, even though it must rely on the working class’ selforganization and participation. Marx and Engels write that this state is the working class organized as the ruling class. But because of the division of labor, necessary bureaucracy, military apparatus and the like, there will be a state bureaucracy that partly stands outside the working class. Therefore, this state from the outset will have some of its own interests, as a separate entity distinct from others. It will develop its own evolutionary laws and its elected officials and bureaucrats will part as a group from others. These aspects of the government cannot, as some hope, be easily removed by the rotation of elected positions and limitations on how long people may have a position. In Russia, Putin and the forces around him circumvented such restrictions simply by putting Putins friend Medvedev in power after his own eight years were up. He even took a tenure as prime minister. And few will assert that the US restriction of presidential terms for a maximum of eight years really changes much in the character of this bourgeois and imperialist state.
Communists are not in principle against rotating leaders but this is a mechanical paper solution that in no way prevents the bourgeois forces from gaining influence. Historically, it is perhaps more that suggest it is the bourgeoisie who benefit from intricate and complex political structures. They have far more means to learn the loopholes and exploit laws and regulations than most working people.
The Communist Party has a definitive role in the working class’ dictatorship
According to Lenin and Stalin, the main institution for ensuring working class power and that the state serves its interests is the Communist Party. The Leninist party should act as the working class’ political general staff. The goal is to be the working class’ highest form of organization, a single organization consisting of the most active and selfless in this class. Leninism developed the theory of the party as a party of a new type, not a wide-open mass party but a party whose members must apply for membership and undertake to work actively for the party’s political line. This party has not only a critical role in the class struggle before the revolution and in the leadership of the revolution, but has a very important task under socialism. The party has a special position as an institution to lead the class struggle also under socialism. The party must ensure that the state not only follow its own or the people’s short-term interests, but in all areas have a revolutionary and communist perspective.
Under Stalin there developed a culture of viewing the party as infallible. There was much talk of “monolithic unity”. Cadre presented the party as an unbreakable unity with no class struggle in the Party itself. Meanwhile Stalin led a fierce battle against bureaucracy and capitalist roaders in the state and party, which may seem like an irreconcilable contradiction to some. Stalin used largely “administrative measures” – through courts and secret police – to crack down on bourgeois tendencies. He also called for control from below, for example through purges in party branches where all members of the party participated in criticism and self-criticism and were encouraged to expell the most incompetent elements. The masses attended open criticism meetings against party members in Stalin’s time. But only with Mao’s theories about unity-criticism-unity and the two-line struggle in the party, coupled with the mass line and the Cultural Revolution, did an advanced method to treat these contradictions emerge. Mao stood in the Leninist tradition of the vanguard party, but broke with ideas of monolithic unity and a party without infighting. He introduced a highly developed theory of cultivation of the masses and mass control of the party.
Maoism also represents a more developed understanding of the military side of the revolution and the working class dictatorship. Engels wrote part of the working class military strategy and Lenin expanded on it slightly, but Mao developed the strategy of Protracted People’s War and upheld the famous thesis that “political power grows from the barrel of a gun”. Derived from this we got the People’s Liberation Army and the people’s militia, which breaks with the armies of the old class dictatorships; the conventional armies which like the old class states breed professionalization and alienation from the people. For the bourgeoisie, it is generally advantageous that the army is not too close to the people – except in situations where other states are invading the areas they control. In connection with invasions we often observe the development of national guards and arming of the people, as was the case after World War II in Norway. But normally in the imperialist countries, states develop professionalized armies for hire that they can send anywhere in the world. So it is with the Norwegian government’s army today.
The socialist state and the socialist army can develop military experts and professional soldiers but Mao stressed how important it was that the army was a People’s Army and that the people themselves were armed. He formulated it as “without a People’s Army, the people have nothing”. Under socialism the masses will be systematically organized in rifle associations and other means of self-defense in socialist national guards and the people’s army.
A concentrated description of working class dictatorship
We can summarize part of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist theory of working class dictatorship as follows:
- Socialism presupposes a workers’ state based on the working class organs of power, elected by the working class and the rest of the working people.
- The workers’ state must serve the people and primarily the working class short-term and long-term interests through socialization (collectivization or nationalization) of production and an economy that will meet people’s needs to the fullest.
- The worker’s state rests on the people’s army, the direct arming of the people, the organization of people’s militias and the working class and people’s monopoly on violence within state borders.
- To lead the working class in the class struggle under socialism, to correct the state and the bureaucracy’s tendency to serve their own interests and develop their own privilege, the Communist Party plays a crucial role. The Communist Party must lead this fight and not leave it to government bodies, trade unions or other forms of organization. The Communist Party is a distinctive and specialized organization for class struggle in all areas and for revolution, even under socialism.
- The masses’ own activity, their control from below, the struggle for criticism of bad leaders and bureaucrats, rectification campaigns and cultural revolutions – these are prerequisites for socialism’s survival and evolution. This battle cannot be fully institutionalized through the state or the party or electoral laws; it cannot be resolved through legal texts and regulations. The masses must often circumvent conventional state organs to avoid having their wings cut. Communists must, like Mao, spearhead such a struggle and not act as conservative or reactionary administrators.
These points are useful for understanding the working class dictatorship and socialism but they can not constitute a complete definition. Indeed, an exhaustive and final definition is impossible to formulate. Lenin said that the concrete analysis of the concrete situation is Marxism’s living soul. We must never define ourselves out of the work of making concrete analysis. Instead we can use the concentrated lessons of Marxist classics; from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, to separate the wheat from the chaff today.
What socialism is not
When certain individuals define Cuba and North Korea as socialist countries today, their evaluation is mainly based on four factors:
- That these states and their state leaders say that they are socialist. They use red flags, they use Marxist jargon (at least to some extent) and they link themselves to Marxism-Leninism.
- That these states are in competition with Western imperialism, mainly US imperialism.
- That production in these countries is mainly based on state or collective ownership.
- That laws and regulations in these countries guarantee “socialist” property and people taking part in elections to state bodies with the right to criticism and participation enshrined in law.
Despite all this, Serve the People says that these countries are not socialist. How can that be?
The first two points can be dismissed quickly as criteria for socialism. That a head of state calls himself something means little or nothing. Hitler called himself National Socialist, but were neither national nor socialist. America’s leaders call themselves democrats and Norwegian leaders call Norway a peace nation. To stand against the United States is not enough either – on a good day, the Iranian regime, Russia’s Putin, today’s capitalist Chinese leaders and Al Qaeda all stand “against the US”. Various bourgeoisies fight over the same resources, markets and political control. One bourgeoisie is not in essence better or worse than the other, just more or less effective, large or strong. US imperialism is the greatest enemy of the peoples of the world. Nevertheless, it is not the case that all who stand against it represent the future and socialism, although it is good that they resist.
The greatest source of theoretical confusion regarding socialist countries is property relations. Many who see themselves as communists think the main difference between capitalism and socialism is property relations. With that kind of view, state or collective property is synonymous with socialism. So that with more state production, more welfare and higher taxes, a country becomes “more socialist”. With such a view, social democrats are more socialist than liberal democrats, and the understanding of socialism becomes reformist rather than revolutionary. Marx, Engels and Lenin do not say that the revolution and socialism are initiated by state property but instead by the working class dictatorship. This is the key question and the watershed between capitalism and the socialist era. You can not have socialist property relations without a working class dictatorship. State property without the working class dictatorship is just another form of bourgeois property – directly under common capitalist (state) control instead of private capital.
Laws and regulations can mean as little as what the state calls itself and what flag is lifted on national holidays. Under capitalism, private ownership is seemingly sacred but the bourgeois state and the capitalist monopoly companies can suppress it and even put it completely aside. In fact, this happens all the time – primarily against workers, peasants and poor people but also towards individual capitalists.
Neither the people’s participation in elections to assemblies nor a formal right to withdraw elected officials proves that a country is socialist. In Norway the majority participate in elections and have a number of formal rights to express themselves, gather and organize. The same applies to a great many countries that no one will call anything but capitalist. The question is not who votes or who gets a position but rather what policy is chosen, what political line is adopted, what perspectives it has and where it leads – or more succinctly; the class interests it serves in the short and long term.
There is no working class dictatorship in Cuba or North Korea – their systems are variations on the bureaucratic state capitalism of the Soviet Union from 1956 to 1991. This is a system developed by and for a bureaucracy that has constituted itself as a new bourgeoisie. Mao concentrated this insight in the phrase, “revisionism in power is the bourgeoisie in power”. Neither Cuba nor North Korea have seen cultural revolutions. They were developed by the Soviet model, and were wholly or partially linked to Soviet social-imperialism. The regimes in these countries expose themselves primarily in the weakness of the Communist Party, the leading ideology and the political line of the state. Some examples:
- The leadership of the Cuban revolution was basically not communist. After the revolution they merged with the admittedly small Moscow-loyal Communist Party, but the leadership was from the start politically weak.
- After the revolution in Cuba, the country was quickly integrated into part of the Soviet Union’s “socialist division of labor” and made to focus on trading raw materials – primarily sugar. A line of dependence instead of independence was cultivated. This policy showed its immense weakness when the Soviet Union disintegrated and parts the Cuban economy had to be rebuilt from scratch.
- North Korea’s ideology has little in common with Marxism. Juche is idealistic and has a religious character. The leadership is not working to spread revolution in the rest of the world. It has a friendly relationship with Chinese state capitalism and was strongly against the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s time.
- North Korea’s “military first” policy (Songun) and its inability to feed its own people reveal a distorted set of priorities as production is not geared to satisfy people’s needs. Mao says that weapons are important in a war, but people are more important. Economic, political and military displays of force and an “army first” attitude reveal a non-marxist political line.
- There has been no cultural revolution or similar mobilization of the masses in either Cuba or North Korea. The masses’ participation are clearly marked by institutionalization within “safe” limits set by the state and the party.
- Both countries have developed an almost hereditary leadership cycle, where Raul Castro took over from Fidel Castro, and where Kim Il Sung was succeeded by his son and then his grandson. People are obviously free to choose anyone as leader but hereditary privilege is a feudal custom that has no place in socialism.
Use MLM and the lessons of socialism for concrete analysis and praxis in Norway
Socialism in Norway must build on the general teachings systematized by the Communist classics and on our own assessment of good and bad experiences from socialist countries. These lessons and experiences must be applied to the specific circumstances we find here. Not mechanically transferred as blueprints but used creatively and virulently. This must be done both in theory and practice, primarily in praxis.