Marxism, socialism and the Third World

Note: This is kind of stream of consciousness, and I am probably not being as accurate and precise as I could or should be. It’s also, obviously, not comprehensive — the Third World is too large, to write a comprehensive overview is too large a project, and the gaps in my knowledge are even larger. If you’re actually going to bother reading through this, bear with me. I’m writing this so that I can glean from it and turn parts of it into a more comprehensible paper..

The recent collapse of the global financial system has brought renewed interest to Marx, Marxism and socialism in mainstream literature. It’s probable that a lot of this will translate into academic “I-told-you-so” literature as well. The question of Marx here is one of a prescient and penetrating critic of the systemic operation of capitalism. Globalization typically refers to the proliferation of neoliberal ideology, policies and practice throughout the world starting in the 1970s, reaching a high point in the late 1980s as all and sundry adopted neoliberal capitalism as the way to go, and a surfeit of academic and activist analysis of globalization as globalization with the anti-globalization movements of the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, in the Communist Manifesto — published in 1848 — Marx and Engels wrote of capitalist production and ideology spreading throughout the world, remaking it in its own image. They also pointed out that the systemic operation of capitalism led to recurring crises — crises through which capitalism could reinvent itself or which oppositional forces could exploit (so to speak) to bring about a more just and equitable state of affairs.

One might think Marx and Engels to be prophets, but that the capitalism they were describing was the capitalism of the 19th century. Indeed, capitalism has changed since then — through several crises capitalism has been reinvented, reshaped, compromised and reestablished. But in many ways it remains the same, for at its essence is the appropriation by a few of the wealth produced by the many. While there is a form of exploitation intrinsic to capitalism (that of capitalists appropriating the wealth of workers) as a mode of production, there is more to it than just that. For capitalism had to begin somewhere, and the mode of exploitation of workers inherent to it was not always the way it worked. There first had to be a massive accumulation of capital outside the system — what Marx called primitive accumulation. Where did this mass accumulation come from? Locally, in England, it came from the enclosure of the commons (lands peasants would use in common), and the appropriation thereof by landed gentry, kicking peasants off the land and thereby establishing roving bands of unemployed and shitpoor people who had nothing to lose. These migrated to towns and cities to work in factories in shitpoor conditions. Yet there was also the massive pillaging of the Americas, India and parts of Africa, not to mention Ireland, among others. What Marx and Engels saw in their time, even as early as 1848, was the expansion of capitalism to many corners of the world.

But this colonial expansion reached its height in the late 19th century, as virtually the entire world was carved up amongst various European powers. No longer was this a question of “primitive” (or original) accumulation, but about a structural imperative of the capitalist system — noted, in various ways, by Marxists like Kautsky, Hilferding, Luxemburg, Lenin, and non-Marxist (but socialist) Hobson. Imperialism was all about using forced colonial labour to extract as much wealth as a state (more typically, its corporations) could–in a sense, exporting excess capital from Europe to the colonies to create more capital; and also to expand markets for commodities produced in Europe. (So, for instance, although India was a massive cotton reserve for England, Indians had to buy clothes processed in England.)

Colonial expansion was the order of the day, and forcefully integrated several areas of the world into a particular, Europe-centred global capitalist economy. This should not be taken as saying that there was no economic integration before imperialism, but that imperialism brought about a new system that was unanticipated and unprecedented in its scope, exploitation and sheer brutality. One might argue that globalization, as a term used in the butt end of the 20th century, was not a particularly meaningful term nor did it refer to a particularly novel phenomenon.

Yet, there’s something to be said about globalization because of something that happened in between the era of high imperialism and the neo-hegemony of capitalism late in the 20th century. Here we can look at the significance of Marx and Marxism not simply as an analytical tool to examine capital intellectually, but also as a particular form of political practice. To quote Marx’s famous dictum, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Even as capitalism and capitalists ran Europe, massive resistance movements were operating. In the early 20th century, the most significant one was the German Social Democratic party whose intellectuals and outlook was Marxist. The idea was that the initial challenges to capitalism would arise in Europe, as capitalism — being highly developed — would go through such crises as an organized and militant labour movement could take advantage of. Yet, at some point before the first World War, something happened, where the Social Democratic party, becoming a solely parliamentary party, began to lose a revolutionary position and began focusing instead merely on the crises of capital as somehow leading, eventually, to a systemic change. Meanwhile, this process could be sat upon and encouraged through parliamentary methods. The Second International was a group of various trade unions, workers’ parties and other such organizations from all over the place.

When the first World War began, these parties and organizations ended up supporting their own governments instead of actively opposing the war. This caused major splits in the international anti-capitalist movement of the day, for these parties were now accommodating and acquiescing to capital instead of opposing it. But at the end of the war, an anti-capitalist revolution did succeed — in Russia. This was the takeover of power by workers and peasants organized through the leadership of several working-class parties and organizations, most notably the Bolsheviks led by Lenin, Trotsky and others. This communist revolution was significant precisely because it did not take place in the heart of Europe, in an advanced, industrialized country. Rather, it occurred in Imperial Russia, largely agricultural and with a nascent industry — or, an undeveloped country, so to speak. (Soon, there were civil wars in the new soviet republic, as the forces of reaction, along with the governments of Britain, France, America, etc. attacked the Bolsheviks and anarchists, who were also fighting with each other — until relative normalization was reached in the early 1920s.)

There were many socialist and anticolonial movements all over the world, and many of them were already influenced by Marxist thought. The Bolsheviks, internationalists that they were, immediately established a Communist International (Comintern), to which several parties and trade unions affiliated. Many groups split from their reformist parent parties to establish Communist parties — which, in many cases, grew very quickly and even outpaced the social democratic parties they were meant to replace. The case of Communist parties in Europe is generally well known — massive communist movements in Germany, Italy, and France. In the United States, the Socialist Party split and a Communist Party was born. Communist parties were formed in India (then under British rule), in China, in Mexico (incidentally, an Indian helped found the Communist Party of Mexico) and in other parts of Latin America, in various countries in the Middle East, and so on, throughout the 20s and 30s.

In the Caribbean, many leading intellectuals were attracted to and became Marxists. C.L.R. James, from Trinidad, was a leading Trotskyist for many years. George Padmore, also from Trinidad, was an important communist — a member of the Comintern — and also a leading figure in Pan-Africanism organized from London.

However, communist parties didn’t really get off the ground anywhere in Africa, with a few notable exceptions — like the initially racist Communist Party of South Africa which later became one of the most important organizations in the fight against apartheid. However, some nationalist movements were influenced by, and in some cases received material aid, of communist parties elsewhere, e.g., the Soviet Union and France. The Communist Party of Algeria was a branch, or something, of the Communist Party of France and was organized in 1920. Moreover, many leading African nationalists and intellectuals were Marxist or were influenced by Marxism. Jomo Kenyatta, though thoroughly capitalist, actually studied for a while in Moscow. On the whole, however, communism wasn’t that influential in most African countries until much later.

While many communist parties and individuals were creative, highly organized, and deeply rooted in the struggles of the people they were organizing, the Soviet Union and its hegemony in the Comintern was also often problematic when squared against anticolonial and anti-imperial movements. The actions and activities of certain communist parties were also off the wall.

For instance, the Communist Party of India was initially highly involved in taking leadership of peasant associations (the All India Kisan Sabha) and, despite being banned by the British, took a role in tilting Congress to the left and providing key support for the Marxists and socialists in Congress (such as Nehru, Bose and many others) as well as putting pressure upon the conservative factions (led by Gandhi, who thought class struggle was for chumps) through the early 1930s. Yet, when the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany in the second world war, the CPI took a position supporting Britain and calling on Indians to join the war effort — you see, what had initially been an inter-imperialist war became a people’s war when the Soviet Union was sucked in. I can see some of the reasoning behind this, but it’s hardly attractive when the British, during the second world war, effectively caused the deaths of 3.5-3.8 million people in Bengal. Congress took the line of opposing India’s involvement in the war, though perhaps not for the right reasons, either. In any case, it was the correct decision to take (later, members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — which split from the CPI in 1962 — engaged in self-criticism over this stance). Incidentally, M.N. Roy (the guy who helped found the Communist Party of Mexico) also took the line of supporting the war effort — although by this point he had been kicked out of the Comintern and was not a communist (now a radical humanist, as he called it). India achieved independence from Britian in 1947, and the Communist Party never really recovered from its backward line on a national level, but on local levels in various parts of India the Communist Party was extremely influential, especially the CPI(M) which split from the CPI and then overtook it.

Another interesting occurrence around the second world war is Stalin’s insistence upon George Padmore to stop agitating against British and French imperialism, as the Soviet Union sought to curry favour with the West following the consolidation of Nazi power in Germany. Padmore was having none of it. The Germans and Italians, while definitely responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans (e.g., in Namibia, Tanzania, Libya) were hardly worse than the British or the French in that respect. Padmore resigned from the Comintern and moved to London to continue organizing against all imperialism. The lines of the Comintern were also rather problematic (to say the least) at times for the Communist Party of China — in terms of how they should relate to Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist party, the Kuomintang, before and during the second world war. Of course, after the war, the Communists routed the nationalists for the win, thus establishing in 1949 the Chinese revolution — Red China.

In the 1950s, the French Communist Party had some weird-ass relations to the revolutionary wars in Algeria and Vietnam, because they were worried about how the French public would receive them if they came out forcefully against the French government. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and China were providing support to the communists in Vietnam and the FLN in Algeria. The latter was a socialist organization, though not with the kind of analysis of Marxism, and had many Marxists in it, including Frantz Fanon. Yet, it was precisely because of the FCP’s ambivalence toward anticolonial struggles that Aimé Césaire (Martinique was, and is, a department of France and so is represented — several times by Césaire himself — in the French National Assembly) ditched it in 1956. By this time, the Chinese Communist Party was moving steadily away from the Soviet line. Césaire denounced the notions of evolutionism he found in Stalinist orthodoxy and its adherence by the FCP. He noted that, while he was abandoning neither Marxism nor communism, he was looking for Marxism and communism to serve black people, and not for black people to serve Marxism and communism. Respect.

I should also note the problems of adopting terms developed by Marx and Engels to analyze the Western European, and more particularly the English situation, to everywhere else in the world. There are complex modes of production, non-capitalist ones, that have to be accounted for in a language that does not reduce them to merely being feudalism, or, as some Marxists have noted, there is no particular reason the meaning of feudalism cannot be adapted to fit local situations so long as the content of that analysis is concrete. Part of the problem stems from the definite encroachment and incorporation of non-capitalist modes of production into the circuits of capital and capitalist production.

But what’s also important to note here is that right off the bat — whether we take that as Marx or the Bolshevik revolution — Marxism and communism were interpreted and reinterpreted in various ways, different lines, opinions and theories vied for hegemony within parties and within international assocations. There was a tremendous amount of disagreement, many abandoned communism and allegiance to the Soviet Union while retaining Marxist analysis and different forms of Marxist practice. Moving into the post-second world war period, several groups and parties gravitated toward a more Chinese communist line. Shifting away from Soviet orthodoxy, the Chinese placed great stress upon peasant consciousness, protracted work amongst the peasantry and proletariat through people’s war, and alternative models of developing socialism than that of the Soviet Union. The Cuban revolution in 1959 was also significant worldwide but especially in Latin America — where Soviet influence (in terms of arms, money, etc.) was never, at all significant, if at all present.

But I’ve given, perhaps, a (tremendously) condensed overview of communism up to the 1960s. There is a lot more going on here. Socialism, the concept thereof, existed before Marx and before the Bolsheviks. What did not exist was a socialist state. That’s what the Bolsheviks accomplished through a revolution. Yet, not all socialists were, as such, revolutionaries. Or if they were revolutionary socialists, they were not necessarily Marxists or communists. But what the Bolshevik revolution definitely did was provide a greater space to socialist ideas as actually practicable — though there were disagreements about how to get there. It also led to increasing waves of repression in many countries. In the colonies, of course, unionization and other forms of political association were long-banned, allowed very late. But especially now radicals could be put down as potential communist infiltrators, and all of that. In any case, throughout the 20th century, the idea of socialism became quite ubiquitous, especially among anticolonial movements.

For instance, even Gandhi spoke of socialism. Yet, for Gandhi, this was a slow, gradual process that would take a long time, and was based more on the development of self-help organizations than it was on the basis of workers and peasants appropriating the means of production (capital and land). Gandhi was explicitly opposed to concepts of class conflict and class struggle, and definitely opposed to class warfare. This was not so true for socialists in Congress, like Nehru and Bose — who weren’t, at all, communists. Yet after Congress came to power in 1947, Nehru did adopt (despite radical bourgeois measures like land reform) this gradualist approach to socialism — through class conciliation rather than class conflict. What it meant, in effect, was bargaining and compromising with the bourgeoisie, landed interests, local power brokers, and members of upper castes, as the state took a form of mixed-economy approach, with central planning and free enterprise of sorts existing together. Needless to say, India as a whole never really got anywhere on the road to socialism.

In Africa in the 1950s, several anticolonial movements were in operation, leading up to the wave of independence of African states in the 1960s that began with the independence of Ghana in 1957. Many of the leaders of these anticolonial movements, like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, declared their commitment to socialism. Though Nkrumah was somewhat of a Marxist, most of the leaders adhered to something that generally became known as African Socialism. The basic gist here was that traditional, pre-colonial African societies were essentially classless and casteless, with no private ownership of means of production (land, basically). Some, like Leopold Senghor of Senegal, went so far as to call out a distinct “African personality” that was somehow antithetical to a Western philosophy of materialism or some such. (Fanon takes this apart in his chapter “On National Culture” in The Wretched of the Earth.) The point, then was to restore the values and traditions of pre-colonial Africa, and this could be achieved without the kind of class struggle called forth by Marxism. Indeed, part of the problem here was also that many anticolonial movements were urban-based, broad-based, involving several sections of society. They largely maintained that structure in post-colonial times. Perhaps this is why Fanon puts an especial emphasis on the mobilization of the peasantry, which didn’t seem to be what a lot of people were keen on.

Yet, this is precisely, kind of, what happened in the anticolonial struggles in Guineau-Bissau and Mozambique (though not quite Angola). Here the opponent was a particularly intransigent Portuguese colonialism, brutal and ugly (see earlier posts on history of Mozambique). Many newly independent African states, as well as the Soviet Union and China, provided help to the anticolonial movements in these Portuguese colonies. They took up arms, indeed, had to, in order to drive out the colonizers. In Mozambique, this took the form of a protracted people’s war — from 1964 to 1974. Indeed, it probably would have gone on even longer, had it not been for the fact that within Portugal a group of progressive armed forces officers launched a coup (the Carnation Revolution, that then degraded into some liberal bourgeois democratic thing, but let’s not harp on that). The process of setting up base communities in liberated areas of Mozambique radicalized the guerrillas, perhaps a lot more than the broad-based leadership of the liberation movement, FRELIMO. (Note, we are now focusing on FRELIMO, because FRELIMO is what I focus on.) Leadership struggles led to the assassination of increasingly Marxist-Leninist inclined Eduardo Mondlane (with the collaboration of the Portuguese, of course), but eventually led to the coming to power of Samora Machel and Marcelino dos Santos — the latter a seasoned international diplomat by this time and (he’s still alive, mind you) a dedicated Marxist. Samora Machel was the commander of the guerrillas and he, too, had arrived at a commitment to Marxism. The whole movement was leaning toward Marxism, in particular adopting an approach to peasant mobilization that was heavily influenced by Chinese communism (in particular, Mao).

In 1975, all three colonies achieved independence from Portugal. In Mozambique, FRELIMO adopted Marxism-Leninism officially in 1977, and then became just Frelimo. MPLA in Angola adopted Marxism-Leninism, too, but was embroiled in a civil war with rival anticolonial factions (who, incidentally, were supported by South Africa, the United States and … the Chinese — this was ass-backwards, of course). The socialist project embarked upon in Mozambique caught the attention of a lot of people in the world. It was electrifying, because it coincided with, in 1975, the victory of the Vietnamese communists over the Americans. The spread of world socialism, it seemed, was irresistible.

Yet starting in the 70s and continuing into the 80s, Mozambique was harassed by a group of rebels, heavily backed first by racist Southern Rhodesia, and when that became Zimbabwe through armed struggle of Mugabe and co. (now discredited, then acclaimed), by South Africa. The rebels had no real ideology, other than destruction of, well, just about everything. The significant gains made in health and education were reversed. The crappy Soviet-influenced economic policies were capitalized upon to increase alienation against the Frelimo government. By the time the war ended in 1992, the rebels had destabilized the whole country, established themselves indigenously, caused the deaths of one million people, and displaced five million more — this in a country of 15 million. By 1989, Frelimo had abandoned Marxism-Leninism and embraced neoliberalism. The same was going on in the Soviet Union and virtually all over the world. World communism was over. World socialism was far gone. What once seemed irresistible was now irredeemable.

I have three points to make via Frelimo. The first is that the Mozambican adoption of Marxism-Leninism was an indigenous decision, not a result of Soviet agents or anything like that (if anything, Mondlane was evidently close to the American administration). The second is that there was virtually no limit to the destabilization that racist, white capitalist regimes — South Africa in particular — were going to in order to massively screw up the revolution in Mozambique. Samora Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986, probably caused by the South Africans. Destabilization was also true of Angola, where the Cubans and Soviets helped MPLA fight UNITA, backed by South Africa, America and China (China did some really stupid things sometimes). One should be able to extend this to virtually every communist regime that has ever existed — there was no end of international hostility stacked against it, from the very Bolshevik revolution to tiny Cuba now. The third point is that a considerable degree of the problem was, I think, Frelimo’s shift from a more mass line based Maoist politics to a doctrinaire, even dogmatic Soviet politics — everything was about big, industrial projects being planned by Bulgarian and East German agronomists who knew nothing of Mozambique but hey, “scientific” socialism. This was general orthodoxy, not just Soviet, but it was disastrous. Nevertheless, it is argued by some that Frelimo could have corrected its practice back in the 1980s, and was on its way to do so, were it not for the massive destruction being wrought. (By that, I am not talking about adopting the Maoist line as if it were correct dogma, but instead building upon the vitality of Frelimo’s practice during the liberation struggle and early days of independence.) But all that is now history.

So, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the reversal of Chinese and Vietnamese communism, and with the collapse of the Mozambican socialist project, the nails were put into the coffin of world communism, yes, but also world socialism, once and for all. This is, I think, the true significance of the term “globalization” — for what it refers to is the near total replacement of the very idea of an alternative to capitalism. However imperfect and incorrect these socialist states were, they at least offered the idea of an alternative. Yet here the Soviet Union was going neoliberal, and there seems to be no state more capitalist than China. Capitalism was global, and it was here to stay. This is the End of History, for There Is No Alternative.

Or so it seemed… for Cuba was still socialist, headstrong. Throughout the world many people rebelled against capital — as the Zapatistas launched their armed struggle in 1994 just as the North American Free Trade Agreement was put into place. Meanwhile anti-globalization demonstrators in North America and Europe brought these certain summits to their knees — however, they did so largely with a dismissal of Marxism and communism, in total.

Yet, in India, Communists (Maoists) continued their rebellion, started in 1969 after splitting from the CPI(M), against the central and local governments and power brokers, and were revolutionizing social relations as they took over large chunks of the territory of India. Communists (Maoists) in the Philippines continued their struggle. In Nepal, Communists (Maoists) launched a people’s war. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez was elected president, and while not a communist or Marxist, he is certainly some form of socialist and sees the take over of state power as an appropriate means to implement a socialist agenda. In India, the Maoists operate in 200 of 600 districts. In Nepal, they brought the monarchy and old bourgeois-monarchical democracy to an end and established a Constituent Assembly for the drafting of a new constitution — and became the government at that (though, recently, they have resigned). Recently, in El Salvador, the FMLN became the government — winning the presidency — nearly two decades after their guerrilla war against the elites was negotiated to an end. The “pink tide” in Latin America is generally well-known, and socialism is no longer the kind of bad word it was at the height of American-backed repression (which can be seen, for instance, in Columbia today).

Clearly, communism and socialism as practice still exist in significant sections of the Third World. I think it is a mistake to dismiss the idea of communism, and of course, to dismiss the idea of establishing a socialist society. But it’s also important to recognize that the communists and socialists who are operating have done so through massive struggle, through the refining of theoretical and practical approaches toward revolution and state power, and by critically building upon what came before them. I would say it’s not only a mistake to dismiss the idea of communism and socialism, but it is also a big mistake to dismiss the practical experiences of those who came before (where else are you supposed to learn?). It is a big mistake, also, to dismiss Marx and Marxism — what is needed, rather, is to understand that Marxism has been expanded, and that the method is still rather penetrating and incisive.

There is a global movement toward socialism, and it is a direct result of the oppression of capitalism faced by millions. It’s imperative to support it, and to organize for it. The best way to help, I guess, would be to raise consciousness here, but also to organize for deep change in the way our governments approach other regimes and the problems wrought by capitalism here and now. this!

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