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Gilbert Rozman examines the Soviet debate on Chinese socialism, revealing striking similarities between what Soviet scholars write about China and what they criticize as anticommunist" in Western writing on the Soviet Union.
Originally published in 1985.
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A Mirror for Socialism
Soviet Criticisms of China
By Gilbert Rozman
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1985 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
The official Soviet worldview — like the consumer products turned out by Soviet industry — is not manufactured to withstand open, international competition. It is an artificial creation imposed and supported by national planning, tight internal censorship, and persistent controls on the flow of information from outside. It is, of course, not a properly scientific understanding, subject to unlimited revision on the basis of independent scholarship. Nor can one show convincingly that it is accepted unqualifiedly by large numbers of educated Soviet citizens. Nevertheless, this worldview establishes the terms of discourse and helps shape internal change within the USSR, and at the same time it affects relations with other countries.
The Soviet view of historical change and world forces is not static. It has been continually modified in response to challenges posed by new information to which Soviet specialists and, often, large numbers of citizens have access. One of the most serious and persistent challenges from outside the borders of the USSR has come from developments in China. One unexpected occurrence has followed another: China's Great Leap Forward in 1958, the open split with the Soviet Union in 1960, the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the dangerous border skirmishes of 1969, the Sino-American rapprochement of 1972, and the abrupt reversal of leadership and policies in the aftermath of Mao's death in 1976. As the Chinese experience with socialism and as Sino-Soviet relations have changed, Soviet spokesmen have had to account in diverse ways for the wayward path of a rival communist-led society. No less in the post-Mao era than before, new demands are placed on China watchers in defense of the communist leadership's beleaguered worldview. The Chinese heresy has had a profound effect on Soviet orthodoxy, perhaps as profound as any other development since the de-Stalinization movement of the 1950s.
For about a quarter-century the Sino-Soviet dispute has been one of the driving forces in international relations. Soviet leaders have sought to channel this force. Using China as an example of social change, specialists have reinterpreted the regularities of historical development in order to show why China has deviated while the Soviet Union has followed the correct path. They have analyzed many facets of life in China in support of their conclusions. In this way, the Soviet leaders have tried to strengthen the legitimacy of their own system and to rally the international communist movement behind them. The struggle against China has, of course, included troop deployments and occasional border skirmishes, but the primary battleground for the Soviets has occurred in publications that interpret social change in that country.
This is a study of Soviet perceptions of China after the rupture of the Sino-Soviet alliance in 1960. The primary aim is to convey accurately the views presented in Soviet publications about what has gone wrong in the People's Republic of China. Because, according to the perspective of both Chinese authorities and Soviet analysts, social classes are the principal units of society, I have divided this treatment into separate discussions of five social classes or groups in the population. For each social group, I review what Soviet authors contend were the incorrect policies adopted in China and the explanations the Soviets offer for them.
In no way should these separate discussions of social classes and groups be construed as an attempt to represent Soviet views on the PRC in their entirety. Perhaps the most glaring omission is a discussion of what the Soviets consider to have gone right in the period 1949-1957 as a result of Soviet and communist bloc assistance. Nor does this book examine international relations. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that Soviet writers regard close relations with the Soviet Union as a precondition for China's advance to socialism. During the early and mid-1950s Soviet advisers helped set a course for labor unions and worker relations in China, for the organization of intellectuals, and for the establishment of departments in which cadres worked. This assistance is described in Soviet writings as an unqualified blessing for China's march toward socialism. In general, however, much more can be learned from the creative process of identifying what went wrong in China than from the rote application of formulas assumed to assure success in any communist-led society. For that reason, the following chapters concentrate on the topics about which there is greatest diversity of opinion as authors suggest various reasons why China deviated from the path of socialism.
We will examine especially the writings of Soviet specialists on China — officials, journalists, and, above all, academics — and will review how these specialists have exposed the failings of Chinese society. But this theme itself fits into a broader context, which forms the core of the Soviet worldview. We will also explore, therefore: 1) the current Soviet understanding, based on the official interpretation of Marxism-Leninism, of the transition from feudalism and capitalism to socialism, and the character of a socialist society; 2) the recent Soviet attempts to refute the views labeled "anticommunist," which are critical of Soviet history and contemporary society; 3) the evolution of the Sino-Soviet dispute in which each has accused the other of deviating from the path of socialism; and 4) the sociological study of China, the world's largest society. To understand how these themes fit together, it is necessary to cut through the dense jargon used by communists — and demanded by censors — to rationalize their methods and discredit their opponents. When this is done, the surprising result is a striking resemblance between Soviet criticisms of Chinese society and Western criticisms of Soviet society.
The Soviet Worldview
By worldview I mean an outlook on historical development, on the contemporary world order, and on the nature of one's own society. This outlook explains social change and anticipates the future social system. The Soviet worldview differs from any others because it is grounded in a large body of writings that are claimed to provide a systematic and consistent understanding — a scientific understanding — of human existence.
The current Soviet perspective on historical development recognizes four primary forces: 1) technology·, 2) class struggle; 3) scientific understanding of social change; and 4) planned transformation under communist leadership. According to this materialist conception of history, technological change basically determines the nature of production and greatly influences patterns of ownership and property relations. As technology advances, the relations between individuals engaged in production change. Increasingly individuals become conscious of serious barriers to the further development of production and to improvement in their wellbeing — barriers that result from existing forms of property and distribution. Technology advances but the organization of society fails to change substantially. The resulting contradictions aggravate relations between social classes. Oppressed working people resort to class struggle. Their actions eventually lead to revolution and a victory for a new socioeconomic formation that conforms to the level of technology. As a rule, three successive formations based on class antagonisms emerge: slavery gives way to feudal society, which in turn is replaced by capitalism.
In the mid-nineteenth century, as capitalist society was establishing the technological and class relations that are prerequisites for a transition to socialism, founders of Marxism added a vital new force for progress. In the words of Khachik N. Momjan, the president of the Soviet Sociological Association, "At last, mankind had at its command a science of society, which made it possible to rise to new stages of historical progress in the shortest possible period." together to form the communist movement. They were able to lead the working classes to victory in revolutionary struggle.
According to this conception, following a communist-led revolution, changes in the economic base or the substructure are for the first time accelerated by a fourth force: the planned development of the superstructure (the other basic element of a socioeconomic formation; it includes the state, the dominant ideology, the legal system, the educational system, the mass media, and the arts). Just as major technological breakthroughs and revolutionary victories are the landmarks of earlier history, each congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has represented a twentieth-century landmark in propelling Soviet society forward and in leading the way for other communist parties at their own congresses to follow the same successful path. For example, in the aftermath of the Twenty-sixth Congress of the CPSU in 1981 it was claimed that, on the basis of a careful examination of all areas of social life, a scientifically based strategy had been worked out and was embodied in decisions that would favorably influence world social progress. The Soviet view holds that a communist future looms ahead, following the inevitable historical progression that is brought about by these four moving forces of history.
Although this Soviet perspective is basically deterministic, elements of uncertainty are present. It recognizes that the speed of transformation can be affected by factors such as a country's distinctive historical legacy, the role of individual leaders, and international forces. Each country's history must be examined in detail in order to determine variations in timing and even short-term or local deviations from the general path. The Marxist view labeled "historical materialism" is not all-inclusive and is "not meant to substitute for historical science, or for the whole system of social sciences. Historical materialism is a general methodology for the study of history, its motive forces and main stages, its general direction, global sociological uniformities, and forms of their manifestation."
The need for specific analysis is evident from many qualifications noted in Soviet writings: Some countries may bypass a particular formation, such as capitalism; "there is no mechanical dependence of consciousness on the economic order"; "the socialist order in itself cannot guarantee men against mistakes in questions of economics, politics, culture and ideology"; and the role of a "great man" may determine if an historical event takes place earlier or later, even if the basic direction of historical development remains as predicted and, in the final determination, the decisive role is that of the working masses. The possibility exists that all four of the moving forces of history may vary from their expected pattern in certain historical circumstances, leading to different outcomes in different countries.
The inevitability of socialism and communism is premised on the following assumptions. First, communist parties, because of the composition of their membership and the structure of their organization, will not make serious mistakes in building a socialist superstructure and in transforming the inherited substructure. Second, if communist parties and their leaders should make serious mistakes, the existence of a scientific understanding of social relations in the Marxist-Leninist literature will impel other communists to redirect them on a proper course. Third, if for any reason, the ideology continues to be incorrectly interpreted, class struggle will ensue as the working classes battle to establish a system consistent with their interests. Finally, if all else fails in the short-run, the persistence of technological change will eventually transform the working classes into a decisive revolutionary force. The four moving forces continue to operate in all periods prior to full-fledged communism. As a rule, one takes over from the next as the guiding force. But should a breakdown somehow occur, the others wait in reserve, prepared to set the progress of society back on course.
The application of this approach by specialists on particular countries requires what Soviets call "historical sociological research." According to this approach, the general sociological laws are understood but it remains to be determined how these laws operate in concrete conditions of place and time. This is not viewed as a deductive process, because in the short-term occur "temporary deviations under the influence of various kinds of chance events" (sluchainosti) and all kinds of zigzags, and only in the final analysis is the basic direction of development evident. It is up to the specialists to investigate concrete historical events, including what are widely referred to as "regressions," "contradictory forces," "multi-formations," "deviations," "disproportions," and "deformations." Of course, they may do so only so long as they raise no direct challenges to the general sociological laws, i.e. the essence of Marxism-Leninism as currently interpreted.
Implicitly or explicitly the application of this approach calls for comparisons. To the extent that individual Soviet writers reject mere illustrations of general sociological laws, they base their generalizations on a comparative approach. The comparisons mostly rely on Vladimir I. Lenin's findings from Russian history or Karl Marx's earlier interpretations of Western Europe's history, but increasingly a wider range of historical experience has been incorporated. The regularities that operate as the basis for comparative analysis fall into three primary categories, each focusing on a separate period of a society's evolution: the legacy of feudalism, the transition to socialism, and the building of communism.
The Legacy of Feudalism
In the past three centuries, the forces of capitalism and imperialism have confronted feudal societies one after another throughout the world. By "feudal," Marxists mean largely agrarian settings in which the primary class antagonism is between landlords and peasants. Increasingly Soviet area specialists accept as the starting point of analysis a need to specify the nature of that confrontation and of the preceding period of feudalism. Different approaches can be found in the literature. Some specialists prefer alternatives to the pure notion of feudalism as a socioeconomic formation. Various points of view center on the concept of the Asiatic mode of production, which was introduced by Marx. One view is that there was an independent Asian formation, which was an alternative to slaveholding society as the first class formation. A second view is that the Asiatic mode was a transitional step either to slaveholding or to feudalism. V. P. Iliushechkin, one of two China specialists who have published analyses of the materials on the Asiatic mode of production, rejects the separate categories of slave, feudal, and Asiatic and proposes a third view that there was a single prebourgeois class formation in which renters, serfs, or slaves were exploited by a class of large-scale landowners. In contrast, V. N. Nikiforov, the other China specialist who has written extensively on this concept, offers a fourth view that there is no distinctive Asiatic formation. No concept has drawn more attention to the consequences of historical conditions that deviate from the "normal" course than the notion of the Asiatic mode of production, and no country is more important than China to the debate over this concept.
Associated with the concept of the Asiatic mode of production are at least five social conditions: 1) community property with much actual ownership in the hands of central authorities (the use of irrigation supports community ownership); 2) exploitation of labor by a despot who rules through a bureaucracy and maintains a superstructure of Eastern despotism; 3) inertia and conservatism in technology or the means of production; 4) unity of farming and crafts on a small scale, which signifies a weakly developed division of labor and domestic market; and 5) overlapping of socioeconomic contradictions in which the transition from kin to class relations is more complex than usual, which signifies a distortion of class relations and class struggle. This legacy is associated with backwardness in modern societies, especially in the delayed and distorted emergence of capitalism. Even among the majority of specialists who eschew the Asiatic mode as a separate formation, these same conditions are widely accepted as part of the legacy of Eastern feudalism.
Excerpted from A Mirror for Socialism by Gilbert Rozman. Copyright © 1985 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
1 Introduction, 3,
2 Peasants, 59,
3 Workers, 93,
4 The Intelligentsia, 137,
5 Officials, 166,
6 National Minorities, 210,
7 Conclusions, 235,
List of Works Cited, 269,