China: the Struggle Within: Mao Didn't Wait for Thermidor
Mao Didn't Wait for Thermidor
March 3, 1967By SAM MARCY
Even if the cultural revolution should falter and temporarily come to a halt as a result of considerable resistance from the revisionist and rightist forces, it would still be a significant historical achievement.
For it is the first time, since the early days of the Great October Socialist Revolution, that the leadership of a socialist country picked up the threads of the Paris Commune and made an earnest effort not only to crush the old state machine, but to do away altogether with those elements of the bureaucratic apparatus of the old order. These are the elements which every socialist state to one extent or another has inherited from the past and in the course of trying to reconstruct society on a new basis, found necessary to utilize for immediate practical purposes. But as time passed, such societies were either unwilling or unable to cast them off. China's effort is all the more remarkable because of the tremendous struggle launched to carry this out by projecting the masses on to the political arena and attempting to awaken their creative initiative in completing the revolution.
In none of the socialist countries has there taken place that kind of clean sweep of what Marx called "the old rubbish." And wherever efforts were made to get rid of them, in the end, they cropped up again. By their nature and social make-up they act as the breeder and carrier of the reactionary leftovers of the old order.
It is in this light that the mighty social and political upheaval known as the cultural revolution should be viewed.
For what Mao Tse-tung and his collaborators are trying to do is nothing less that to make a truly heroic and herculean effort to avoid the advance of Thermidor on the soil of the Chinese Revolution.
Every great revolution in world history has up until now had its period of tempestuous surge forward which was followed by a decline and included a partial reaction. This was so in The Russian Revolution, The French Revolution, as well as The Cromwellian Revolution in 17th Century England. In each of these cases, there was a partial reaction in which reactionary groupings took over, but in none of these cases was there ever a restoration to the full previous status quo.
The French Revolution had its Thermidorian period of reaction which came on the heels of the Jacobin period. But feudalism was destroyed root and branch, and the Thermidorian period was a political reaction with limited regressive social and economic consequences. (It takes its name from the month of "thermidor" on the French Revolution's new calendar, the month during which Robespierre was killed by the reactionaries.) The old feudal system, as a social system, was destroyed and the new bourgeois system began to flourish. About the same happened with the earlier Cromwellian revolution, except that more substantial concessions were made to the old ruling class.
Whatever one may consider the starting point of Thermidor in the Soviet Union -- whether it was under Stalin or Khrushchev -- all revolutionary groups are agreed that a period of reaction ensued which is now in full bloom But the difference between Thermidor on the social foundation (class foundation) of a proletarian revolution and the bourgeois revolution may turn out to be of a very fundamental character.
The bourgeois system of production, which is based upon market relations and exploitation of wage labor by capital, can grow and develop spontaneously under a monarchy, under a Bonapartist dictatorship (even of the most reactionary totalitarian character), as well as under a relatively stable bourgeois democracy. In spite of the anarchy inherent in capitalist production, the capitalist system develops automatically -- spontaneously, because of the market, and the political superstructure merely acts as an accelerator or a brake on its development, as the case may be. This is no small matter of concerts of course! But history has shown no instance whatsoever where a capitalist order of society was restored to the old feudal system.
It may be otherwise with the newly established dictatorship of the proletariat, which has taken possession of the basic means of production. Once it has taken over the basic means of production it can scarcely develop at all except on the basis of conscious centralized planning The social relationships can neither be stabilized nor developed, either in the economic or the political sphere, without conscious planning. That is a basic difference between the bourgeois revolution and the proletarian revolution.
If a reaction takes place in a socialist -- i.e., workers' state, that is, if a Thermidorian reaction occurs on the foundation of a proletarian dictatorship, it is immensely more dangerous than in a bourgeois revolution. Thermidor in the French Revolution went as far as it could but the new bourgeois relations developed, the productive forces developed, commerce and industry flourished, the exploitation of the workers was accelerated, the productivity of labor heightened and science and industry began to make giant steps forward.
Thermidor on the basis of a socialist state (i.e. a workers' state) especially if the reaction sinks deeper and deeper roots, has the possibility of fully dissolving all the newly established economic relationships, newly established by the proletarian dictatorship, unless it is stopped. While a full scale bourgeois restoration is a theoretical possibility, it is exceedingly improbable. However, only life will prove which will prevail.
Scarcely a day passes without there being some news of a further development of the so-called economic liberalization and decentralization methods in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Most ominous is the rapid development of the so called new profit system for various establishments and the further extension of individual material incentives which undermine the class solidarity not only of the working people but the general population.
The continuing widening of the gulf between the privileges of the new social stratum and the general mass of the population is becoming so great and the method of material incentive so extensive that they pose the greatest danger to the public -- socialized -- ownership of the means of production. The Soviet leadership must bear full responsibility for the threatening danger to the social achievements of the October Revolution. It is their political and economic policies which continue and constantly enlarge this danger.
Undoubtedly Mao saw the development of Thermidor in the Soviet Union and its debilitating effects both in the economic field as well as in the arena of political life in general. Ail the more remarkable is the effort made to stop the engulfing Thermidorian advance which has enveloped the bulk of the socialist countries. The lasting significance of the cultural revolution will not be in how far and deep it will eventually advance but in that it organized a tremendous army, which in effect made its watchword to the Thermidor:
"Thus far they've gone and no farther. They shall not pass!"
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