Type: Process Essays
Sample donated: Angela Pena
Last updated: July 24, 2019
The term ‘communist’ is generally associated with states such as East Asia, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) who present a botched reality of the actual ideas that were represented in the Communist Manifesto. Communism is a political and economic ideology, developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in order to eliminate social inequality caused by capitalist economies that exploit the vast majority (proletariat) and benefit the rich (bourgeois). Communism is defined, in this essay, as how it was depicted originally in the Communist Manifesto, a political document that outlines the theory and goals of communism. The Manifesto regards communism as the last epoch, a period of history determined by the prevailing economic organization, where there are no class conflicts as all members of society have equal access to the factors of production. Socialism, in Marxist theory, is an epoch where societies transition from capitalism to communism as the state controls private property and the distribution of income (Marx and Engels, 2012).
The USSR and PRC were two agrarian based states where economic contributions are primarily sourced from peasants and farmland. Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong were able to implement socialist policies and introduce communist-like regimes in the USSR, through Russian Revolution of 1917, and the PRC, the Chinese communist revolution which began in 1946. However, the USSR and PRC attempted to overlook important aspects of the Manifesto by promoting socialist policies in pre-industrial societies and overlooking the proletariat’s role in revolution. This essay will argue that attempting to overlook the Stagist approach and the lack of a dominantly lead proletariat revolution were two of the main reasons that influenced the sustainability of socialist and communist reforms in the USSR and PRC. Communism was unable to prosper in both the USSR and PRC as they were not capitalist societies prior to the October revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949 respectively.
The Two-Stage theory, otherwise known as the stagist approach, essentially argues that all societies must be capitalist before transitioning to socialism and eventually communism. The Two-Stage theory originates from a concept in Orthodox Marxism regarding the development of the productive forces throughout history (Kiely, 1995). Marx and Engels perceived history as being materialistic, essentially examine the manner in which individuals interacted with materials in order to survive. History is the process where the productive forces, such as raw materials and manual labour, tend to develop causing the formation of the relations of production. The relations of production continue the advancement of the productive forces. At a particular point in history, the productive forces conflict with the existing relations of production. The forces of production are then replaced with new relations of production which will lead to the beginning of a social revolution (Cohen, 1978).
History has developed six epochs that Marx identifies as; Primitive communism, Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. Because Engels and Marx had a progressive view of history, the believed that all societies will inevitably reach the final epoch of communism. In order to become a communist state all societies must be industrial before transitioning towards socialism. Marx himself highlighted the importance of stagist theory by claiming that “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society” (Marx, 1859).
Communism was unable to effectively succeed in the USSR and the PRC due to the fact that both states were feudal societies when socialist policies were introduced. The concept of communism began to the thrive in the USSR after the Russian Revolution of 1917, led by Lenin and Leon Trotsky, which called for economic and social reforms. During the early 1900s, about 80% of Russia population lived in rural areas (Badcock, 2018) and many of them were forced to fight in the first World War only to return to a state filled with famine and economic instability. Similarly, about 70% of the PRC’s population consisted of peasants living in urban areas and most of the economic activity came from the agricultural sector (Schack, 2009).
Leaders such as Lenin (USSR) and Mao (PRC) attempted to spread communist ideas which can be portrayed through the forcible removal of the Tsars, Russian Monarchs, and the defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT) national party. It is important to note that both leaders were unable to succeed due to the fact that feudalism, unlike capitalism, was unable to create extreme social conditions that were able to estrange workers or divide society into two classes. Because feudalism is unable to generate the bourgeois and the expropriated proletariat then the concept of class struggle begins to diminish which conflicts with the concept of revolution. In a letter written to Joseph Weydemeyer, Marx explained that “class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; and that this dictatorship, itself, constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society”(Marx and Engels, 2010). Furthermore, the USSR and PRC could not be identified as socialist countries due to the fact that there was no proletariat to form a dictatorship, which is how socialism is defined by Marx. It is questionable whether communism truly failed as socialist policies implemented by Mao and Lenin were able to transform the PRC, which remains to be led by the CPC, and the USSR (otherwise identified as Russia due to its collapse) into global powers.
The Soviet Union, under Lenin, was able to carry out major economic reforms that were able to transform modern industrial society in the USSR. Despite the USSR’s short term economic success, the country faced economic damages as a result of Ronald Reagan’s, former US president, attempt at isolating the USSR from foreign trade which plummeted oil prices (Johnston, 2018). It is evidently clear that the collapse of the USSR is an example of how socialist policies and communist ideology was unable to succeed. On the other hand, while the PRC was able to achieve major economic success through the Chinese economic reform. The second stage of the Chinese economic reform, that occurred from 1984-93, focused on the privatization of state owned industry and increasing foreign trade (Naughton, 2010). By adopting elements of the free market, the PRC’s ‘communist’ government was only able to succeed economically by reverting back to capitalism, which was a necessary epoch to begin with. In support of the Two-Stage theory, the USSR and PRC were unable to thrive with socialist policies as both states were feudal as they reverted to capitalism.Another important reason as to why communism was unable to succeed is due to the lack of a proletarian revolution that neither the USSR nor the PRC was able to successfully fulfill.
A fundamental concept of the Manifesto is social formation, when mode of production (that acts as the development of the productive forces) is in agreement with the relations of production. A dysfunctional economic formation occurs as the productive forces develop faster than the relations of production which results in a change in attitudes of different social classes (Schaff, 1973). The bourgeois will want to maintain the dysfunctional society which will lead to other class, being the proletariat, to become conscious of their exploitation prompting the beginning of a revolution.
The PRC and USSR were unable to become communist because there was no formation of a proletariat class to prompt a proper revolution. Most of the USSR’s and PRC’s population consisted of peasants while a minority of the population worked in industrialized sectors. Seeing as both states were feudal societies, class struggle was unable to occur as feudalism did not provide the necessary conditions to create a ruling and working class.
Communism was unable to succeed in the USSR and PRC as the revolutions that occurred were prompted by select individuals and were variants of the real manner in which revolution was described in the Manifesto. The Manifesto described the proletarian revolution as “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air” (Marx and Engels, 2012). Because the USSR and PRC were feudal states, their leaders created concepts such as ‘Vanguardism’ and ‘Peasant Revolution’ to accomodate for the lack of proletarians.
Vanguardism is a concept that was heavily supported by Lenin who argued that because the working class was not homogenous, select intellectuals were needed to give rise to revolution in the USSR. Trotsky supported the concept of vanguardism by claiming “In the revolutionary vanguard, organized in a party, is crystallized the aspiration of the masses to obtain their freedom. Without the class’s confidence in the vanguard, without the class’s support of the vanguard, there can be no talk of the conquest of power. In this sense, the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the work of the whole class, but only under the leadership of the vanguard (Trotski, 1978)”.
While the PRC’s Mao believed that a ‘peasant revolution’ could occur which would allow the society to progress to socialism. It is interesting to note that Mao’s ‘Peasant Rebellion’ of 1925-27 and the USSR’s ‘Russian Revolution’ of 1917 were not dominantly lead by the proletariat. Socialists concepts were heavily spread by a select intellectuals, rather than the working class, causing a lack of a strong revolutionary party. Because the USSR and PRC occured in feudal societies, there was a lack of a proletarian revolution which ultimately led to the failure of communism.