comments on Wu Yiching's article (fwd)

From "Sun Wukong" <>
Date Tue, 23 Nov 2004 22:41:17 +0000

Hi Yiching,

I think this is an extremely important argument you're making. It seems 
important to me because it corresponds to a discussion a
friend and I have been having for several months about applying left
communist perspectives to the study of PRC history. I haven't read the
Sweezy- Bettelheim debate, but Bettelheim's term "state capialism" is also 
used by left communists to describe Stalinist-model states in general;
you suggest he got the idea from Althusser-- I'm not familiar with that; I
know that the US Trotskyist movement split over this concept-- the
Trotskyists' insisted that the USSR was still a "workers' state", and that
the bureaucracy did not constitute a "class" in Marxist terms; the
Johnson-Forest tendency (CLR James et al.) claimed that the Soviet state
itself consituted a collective capitalist, with the bureaucracy as its
deputies or technicians (someone correct me if I'm misrepresenting this 
theory), and they therefore referred to such systems as "state-capitalist" 
rather than "socialist". Other left communists, such as the German and Dutch 
Council Communists, developed a similar analysis, but they
abandoned the term "socialism" altogether as a distinctive form of
capitalism to set beside liberalism, fascism and Keynesianism, instead 
rallying behind the term "communism", which they theorized as different from
"socialism" in ways that overlapped with anarcho-syndicalist theory. Later,
the Italian autonomists (Antonio Negri, et al.) built on this tradition (for
better or worse). (You're obviously well-read in marxist theory; please
forgive me if I'm telling you things you already know!)

I wonder if your analysis might benefit by drawing on or acknowledging some
of these traditions? I note that you consciously diverge from both
Bettelheim and Sweezy in the interest of historical specificty, and I think
this is a good move that should also be made with respect to the various
left communist traditions-- I personally think they get too caught up in
generalizing categories like "capitalism" vs. "socialism", etc. I think you
make an important move in turning the focus to the specificities of how the
bureaucracy has modified its mode of rule through the market. One point that
I worry readers might find problematic is the ambiguity about whether the
bureaucracy consituted a "class" per se during the Mao era-- perhaps this is
a pedantic question, but I'm afraid some readers will seize on that
ambiguity as a point of attack. There appears to be some contradiction on
this question: for instance, 2 paragraphs before footnote 11, last sentence
you say "Marketization has not brought about fundamental changes in the
structure and organization of class power..."; but in the next paragraph,
you write "The ruling elite... may or may not have already formed a fully
developed ruling class or capitalist class". Perhaps this "may or may not"
should be worked out? Or perhaps the phenomenon was itself something
ambiguous and indeterminate-- but in that case, maybe you should explore
that further? But in that case, don't we run into the problem of how there
could be "class struggle" if there was no ruling class against which the
working classes struggled? Perhaps the "state as collective capitalist"
theory would be worth exploring?

Finally, I like your appraisal of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution as a
response to the sense of the bureaucracy's ossification into a ruling class,
and its ultimate failure to address the structural basis of the
bureaucracy's ("the state's"?) power. To me this is a classic example of
"idealism"-- I'm surprised you don't use the term (has it just been said too
many times? or do you think that category doesn't work for some reason?) You
mention that a number of CR radicals did develop a radical critique of this
power structure, but you only mention one primary text (Chen Erjin). I
wonder if you're aware of the Hong Kong journal "qishiniandai", which 
collected and
published a number of mainland "jizuo" texts? I'm not sure about how to find
the originals (I've heard the journal renamed itself "jiushiniandai"-- might 
this be the predecessor of the journal "ershiyi shiji"?), but
the Canadian publisher Black Rose Books translated a collection under the
title _China: The Revolution is Dead, Long Live the Revolution_. You can
order it online:

Some articles of note are:

Sheng Wu-lien: "Whither China?"
Yu Shuet: "The Dusk of Rationality"
Wu Mann: Introduction to _Revelations that Move the Earth to Tears_ (Wu
Mann's account of being sent to a labor camp b/c of "ultra-left deviation"
during the CR, and his subsequent flight to HK)
An interview with Wu Mann
Li I-che: "Concerning Socialist Democracy and the Legal System".

Sorry this message has become so long! I hope you can find something helpful
in it. Please contact me if you want clarification on any points I tried to
make, although I'm really a novice at left communist theory-- I could 
introduce you to someone who knows more about it, and you could also look 

Good luck, and I look forward to learning more from you,


Matthew A. Hale
Anthropology Department
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-3100

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