MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | Martin Nicolaus

7  Bourgeois Right

    The Soviet Union of the mid-1930s was predominantly a scene of triumph and unity.

    Its elementary features were that state power was solidly in the hands of the working class; the major opposition blocs within the party had been exposed and defeated and the unity of the party was strong; the alliance between the working class and the peasantry had been cemented by the collectivization of agriculture; the foundations of socialist economy had been laid; and gigantic forward strides were being made on this basis.

    It was this triumphant spirit that animated the party's 17th Congress of 1934, inspired the adoption of the historic Soviet constitution of 1936 and provided the context for extensive measures of democratization in the Soviet government apparatus in 1937 and the strengthening of democracy and centralism in the party at the 18th Congress in 1939.

    There was nothing phony or hollow at the basis of the predominant spirit of the time. The victories in the area of political. cconomic, social and cultural construction achieved by the Soviet power were as real and tangible as the victories being achieved in our own day by the national liberation struggles of the peoples of Indochina. There was

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and is no legitimate ground for a cynical or pessimistic attitude regarding them.

    And yet, some 20 years after the landmark adoption of the 1936 Soviet constitution, the elementary features of Soviet society had undergone a complete change of character. State power came into the hands of a bourgeois class; the party changed nature; the worker-peasant alliance came under attack; the foundations of the socialist economy were put to the sledgehammer and wrecking ball; and the bottom began falling out from under the forward strides in the development of social production.

    To understand that the USSR was once socialist is not difficult in itself. Nor is it so difficult to see, as will be shown, that it is today capitalist. Not so easy, however, is to grasp these two opposite and contradictory states in their interconnectedness and as a process, to see the seeds of the later in the earlier and to mark the point where an accumulation of gradual, insignificant quantitative changes produced an abrupt turnabout in the whole character of the society.

    In this connection, a highly important contribution has recently appeared in the Chinese theoretical journal Red Flag. Although it addresses itself mainly to current questions in the Communist party of China, it has direct and clear reference also to the ongoing discussions among Marxist-Leninists everywhere about the transformations that took place in the Soviet Union. Entitled "On the Social Basis of the Lin Piao Anti-Party Clique," by Yao Wen-yuan, the article is a critique of shallow, idealist or vulgar interpretations of the Soviet capitalist restoration and deserves lengthy quotation in the context of the present study.

    "It is rather clear," writes Yao, a veteran Communist and a leader in the cultural revolution, "that the Lin Piao and antiparty clique represented the interests of the overthrown landlord and bourgeois classes and the desire of the overthrown reactionaries to topple the dictatorship of the proletariat and restore the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

    "The Lin Piao antiparty clique opposed the great proletarian cultural revolution and had inveterate hatred

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for the socialist system under the dictatorship of the proletariat in our country, slandering it as 'feudal autocracy'. . . ."

    Khrushchev, it will be recalled, upon taking command of the Soviet Communist party in 1956 engaged in similar name-calling against the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR under Stalin.

    Yao then goes on to recall the intraparty machinations and intrigues of the Lin Piao faction which culminated in "Project 571," an attempt at a military coup, which failed and cost its author his life during his hasty flight to escape to the USSR in 1971. "All this reflects the life-and-death struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the two major antagonistic classes, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, a struggle that will go on for a long period.

    "So long as the overthrown reactionary classes still exist, the possibility remains for the emergence within the party (and in society as well) of representatives of the bourgeoisie who will try to turn their hope for restoration into attempts at restoration. Therefore we must raise our vigilance, guard against and smash every plot by reactionaries at home and abroad and not permit our vigilance to slacken."

    Thus far Yao's article moves on familiar ground. It begins to dig deeper, however, with the following:

    "But seeing this much," -- that is, seeing that the remnants of the old bourgeoisie present a danger -- "is still not grasping the whole issue.

    "The Lin Piao antiparty clique represented the hope not only of the overthrown landlords and bourgeoisie for restoration but [also] of the newly engendered bourgeois elements in socialist society for usurping power. They themselves had some characteristics of the newly engendered bourgeois elements and a number of them were in fact such elements. And certain of their slogans met and reflected the needs in developing capitalism of the bourgeois elements and those who want to take the capitalist road. It is precisely this aspect of the question that merits further analysis.

    "Chairman Mao points out: "Lenin said, 'small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie

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continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously and on a mass scale.' This also occurs among a section of the workers and a section of the party members. Both within the ranks of the proletariat and among the personnel of state organs there are people who follow the bourgeois style of life."

    "The existence of bourgeois influence and the influence of international imperialism and revisionism are the political and ideological source of new bourgeois elements, while the existence of bourgeois right provides the vital economic basis for their emergence."

    The term "bourgeois right" is taken from Marx's "Critique of the Gotha Program," and refers to relationships that are free and equal in form, but unfree and unequal in substance. Thus "from each according to his ability, to each according to the amount of labor performed" is a relationship of apparent equality but in reality generates inequality because different individuals perform different amounts of labor. Similarly, the motto "last hired, first fired," which underlies the capitalist trade union seniority system, promotes a formal fairness and equality of opportunity; but also in substance reinforces and reproduces discrimination and inequality in hiring.

    Yao then quotes both Lenin and Mao Tsetung regarding the survival of bourgeois relations in portions of the economic basis of socialist society. (See the fifth article in this series.) It is the accent on the economic basis that is crucial here; for it would be idealist to suppose that a new bourgeoisie can be generated within socialist society solely on the basis of old ideas surviving in people's minds. People's consciousness, Marx held, is a reflection of their social being. This remains true in socialist society as well. If bourgeois ideas not only survive but reproduce and take new forms in socialist society, this is because there is a basis for them in social being. The program advanced by the Lin Piao clique, Yao writes, "neither dropped from the skies nor was it innate in the minds of those who claimed to be 'supergeniuses'; it was a reflection of social being."

    "The analyses made both by Lenin and Chairman Mao tell us that bourgeois right which is bound to exist as

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regards distribution and exchange under the socialist system should be restricted under the dictatorship of the proletariat so that in the long course of the socialist revolution the three major differences between workers and peasants, between town and country and between manual and mental labor will gradually be narrowed and the discrepancies between [wage] grades will be narrowed and the material and ideological conditions for closing such gaps will gradually be created."

    If the opposite is done. Yao says, "the inevitable result will be polarization, i.e., a small number of people will in the course of distribution acquire increasing amounts of commodities and money through certain legal channels and numerous illegal ones; capitalist ideas of amassing fortunes and craving for personal fame and gain, stimulated by such 'material incentives,' will spread unchecked; public property will be turned into private property and speculation, graft and corruption, theft and bribery will rise; the capitalist principle of the exchange of commodities will make its way into political life and even into party life, undermine the socialist planned economy and give rise to such acts of capitalist exploitation as the conversion of commodities and money into capital and labor power into a commodity; there will be a change in the nature of the system of ownership in certain department and units which follow the revisionist line; and instances of the oppression and exploitation of the laboring people will once again occur.

    "As a result, a small number of new bourgeois elements and upstarts who have totally betrayed the proletariat and the laboring people will emerge among party members, workers, well-to-do peasants and personnel in state organs.

    "Our worker comrades have put it well: 'if bourgeois right is not restricted, it will hold back the development of socialism and aid the growth of capitalism.'

    "When the economic strength of the bourgeoisie grows to a certain extent. its agents will demand political rule, the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the socialist system and a complete change of socialist ownership, and openly restore and develop the capitalist system . . . . "

    Yao also takes note of the particularities entailed in a restoration attempt by newly engendered bourgeois elements, as distinct from remnants of the old bourgeoisie:

    "The new bourgeois elements who arise as a result of erosion by bourgeois ideas and the existence of bourgeois right generally share the political features of double-dealers and upstarts. In order to carry out capitalist activities under the dictatorship of the proletariat, they always put up a certain socialist signboard; since their restorationist activities aim not at snatching back any means of production of which they have been dispossessed but at seizing the means of production they have never possessed, they are especially greedy, anxious to swallow at one gulp the wealth belonging to the whole people or to the collective and place it under their private ownership."

    In order to avoid such a restoration, Yao concludes, it is necessary in practice to "dig away the soil breeding the bourgeoisie and capitalism," and, in consciousness, "to be able in good time to see through the new bourgeoisie . . . as it appears or is taking shape."

    There in a nutshell Yao has put the cardinal mistake made by the Soviet Communist party during the period when Stalin was its leader. They did not dig away fast enough the political-economic-social "soil" that was engendering a new bourgeoisie and did not perceive the danger it posed until the initiative had already slipped out of their hands. A closer look at these problems is in order.