By Dimitris Konstantakopoulos (*)
Thank you very much for your kind invitation to participate in this very interesting, I would say even intriguing conference on Marx and Marxism, held in Beijing and coinciding with the celebration of the 200 years since the birth of Karl Merx, the thinker who has contributed as nobody else to demystifying our Social Being.
Thank you also for the opportunity you gave me to visit one more time your country, one of the epicenters of the transformation of our world, but also the cradle of an ancient and important civilization. I come also from a country which has been the birth place of such an ancient civilization, a civilization which had also a lasting influence on the evolution of human though and whose ideas have been one of the main sources of inspiration for Karl Marx himself.
To originate from a country with such a past does not mean to enjoy any privilege. At least in the Greek case, this is certain! But it should be an additional motivation to realize we should look to ourselves not as the owners, but rather as the carriers of life and civilization. There is nothing more important, no nobler ambition, than to contribute and help inherit to future generations a Society and a Planet, at least not worse than the ones we inherited from our ancestors, hopefully, a much better place.
I want to see in your decision to convene this conference a sign of continuing respect and interest for the ideas which inspired the Chinese Revolution and shaped to a considerable degree modern China, a sign of respect for your own past and History. Without deep respect, understanding and assimilation of History and of all the past, it is simply impossible to know what to keep and what to change out of the tradition, without their Memory, societies are condemned to remain unconscious hostages of their history, the same way very many people remain hostages of their childhood.
We Greeks we constructed our word for Truth as A-Lithia, No Oblivion. Truth means to remember, to be conscious of the important things (and of course to be able to forget in the same time, but not the important). And I think there is also a Chinese saying, suggesting that we should use our History as our mirror. I will also try to use this method. I will use the experience of the two last centuries to prove my thesis, on the impossibility for any nation, any country or region, however powerful they may be, to separate their destiny from the rest of the world. In the long run at least, our destiny will be common.
Coming here for this conference, I read somewhere that the Ideogram for ren, the “perfect humanity” of Confucius is composed by the ideogram for Human and the ideogram for the number 2. A human being cannot exist without other human beings, he needs at least another human being to be human. I think we have entered the era where we should generalize that into nations. No nation can exist by itself, it needs also other nations to exist.
I know you don’t like words like “miracle”. Still, I cannot find another one to describe the fantastic economic and technological rise of China you are now living inside. It is only human to wish for that rise to continue without any interference from the outside world and its problems. But the probability of this happening is very close to zero, for a number of reasons.
Speaking now about the situation of the world, I must remind you that Kassandra was not very popular, but she was not very popular not because she was wrong, but because she was right. For that reason you will permit me to disagree a little bit with the title in the session of today’s meeting about the “bright future of humanity. What I see examining the world situation as a whole, is not so much such a bright future, but rather a quite dark one, even the probability of no future at all.
I don’t say that such prospects are unavoidable. What I say is that they represent a very serious and high risk and only becoming conscious of that, only by struggling consciously for another world perspective, we will be able to avoid them.
By the way we are already witnessing that in the escalation of the crisis next to China, around North Korea. No sound person can have any doubt that behind imperialist maneuvers against North Korea, the real target is China and also Russia. And this is only the beginning. The election of Donald Trump as President of the USA seems to have given to the international Neocon Party of War full power in the US. For them, not only the existence of Syria and Iran as relatively independent states, but even the mere existence of Russia or China as a relatively independent, not vassal state, in strategic parity with the US is clearly unacceptable. The same is true for the further economic rise of China. It is equally unacceptable to Western Imperialism, to both its wings, the “domination through globalization” Fukuyama wing and the Neocon-Nationalist “domination through Wars and conflicting Nationalisms” Huntington wing.
They will do everything in their power to destroy Syria and Iran, to stop the military comeback of a relatively independent Russia and the rise of China, to encircle, to intimidate, to provoke regime change, to lure, to divide and subjugate their opponents and in fact they are already doing it. This is the logic behind direct or by proxy interventions in the Middle East, behind threats in Korea, behind interventions in the ex-Soviet Union, behind the new Cold War.
A quarter of a century after Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the end of History and the eternal triumph of Capitalism, History is back full speed, under its most ugly and dangerous face, threatening even the very existence of humanity, increasing the risk of its nuclear or ecological annihilation.
To believe Global Capitalism and Imperialism will not use all means at their disposal to attain their goals, including War, the threat of War and even Nuclear War, is a potentially fatal illusion. They are already experimenting with such means, testing the resoluteness of their opponents and studying in real conflict conditions they themselves are producing, be it in Ukraine or in Syria, their reactions. Russian and Chinese nuclear arms, the economic rise of China and part of global South, the demographic rise of the South, various resistances here or there, are precious elements of containment of the most dangerous tendencies of the Empire. They are necessary, but not sufficient counterbalancing forces. If Politics do not intervene, if people are not mobilized in both the Global South and the North, the Disaster will become unavoidable in the long run.
Human History is fundamentally different from all other forms of organic life or natural processes in that humans are thinking what they are doing. Their will is of decisive importance in the long run.
Many people do not like what I just said about where our world is heading. They prefer not to bother with such difficult problems and not to harm their partial interests to face them. Their ambition is no more than continue what they are doing, getting as much profit as they can out of it. This is especially true of pro-Western, pro-Capitalist forces inside the victims or potential victims of imperialist aggressions. The War threats themselves are calculated and calibrated in a way to help the emergence of such currents and thus to help pro-Western, pro-Capitalist regime change inside the opponents of the Empire.
But it is becoming more and more unserious to claim that Western imperialism has any other intentions than the ones I already described, after having witnessed the destruction of Yugoslavia and half of the Middle East, its intervention deeply into the ex-Soviet Union, the continuous expansion of NATO, different countries of the world under threat of sanctions and invasion and even the threat of a nuclear conflict resuscitated. By abolishing the ABM Treaty, they themselves insisted on adopting in the past, the Unites States have already stated, in the most official way, that they envisage the possibility to launch and win a Nuclear World War. We cannot go on pretending that they cannot mean what they say, just because it looks mad to us! It is very difficult to launch a victorious nuclear war, but they are already threatening with it to realize their political aims. By doing that they increase considerably the probability of getting into situations where the nuclear players will feel they don’t have a way back and then they will trapped into a path leading to mutual annihilation.
It is true there are important differences from time to time inside the Western establishment and it would be only logical to try to exploit them in order to isolate the most extremist wing. Obama for example has to be credited with containing for a while Netanyahu and the main Neocon program of attacking Syria and Iran. The problem is the extremists have proven they dispose a coherent project and they master the massive support of the Empire of Finance, while their opponents are mainly protesting from time to time, without presenting much of a coherent alternative. The result is the extremist, radical faction, in spite of its setbacks, is winning more and more positions over the years.
By the way the theoreticians of Western Imperialism have told us what their intentions really are. Simply we try to pretend we don’t hear what they have said. In a paper written back in 1980 on the Israeli strategy for the ‘80s, Odet Yinon describes everything now happening in the Middle East, proving those wars correspond to a precise project and not to a series of accidents. Even more important, he is telling us that not only Socialism but also Humanism is already bankrupt, thus revealing in a negative way the kind of world dictatorship he is envisaging. For Huntington Democracy does not seem to have any future. But if it is so, then a planetary Dictatorship is the regime which has a future, even if he does not tell it openly. Huntington seems to believe that War is the normal state and the destiny of Humans. As for the American and Israeli Neocons they have already announced their intentions speaking of a new American Century, even if it would be more exact to speak of an Empire of Finance than of an American one. If a person like Graham Allison, one of the more important specialists on US Foreign Policy wrote a book to warn about the serious danger of a War between US and China, he did not do it because such a war is impossible. He knows too well why he had to write it.
When you see a nightmare while slipping, you wake up to stop unacceptable stress. The same thing is happening now with many people and many forces worldwide. The nightmare they see is not in their night dreams, it is in reality itself, so they tend to react to it by slipping, in order to avoid the stress. We need rather to wake up and react to what is happening in front of our eyes, with all the means we dispose, in particular political means, before it is too late. Unfortunately, the prevailing now international political atmosphere reminds us very much of the atmosphere prevailing in the wake of the First and the Second World Wars, when most capitals and most people did not really anticipate a war can happen. As for the existence of nuclear weapons, they represent maybe a very limited insurance against a global disaster, but, unfortunately, they also represent a way to realize it.
Nothing in the history of Capital Accumulation and Imperialist Expansion during five, if not ten centuries, permits to entertain the fatal illusion that Global Financial Capitalism will sit idle, just looking calm and peaceful to China becoming an economic superpower or Russia reclaiming even a part of the independence it had or the role it played during the Soviet era. We would not be Marxists to entertain such an illusion. In fact we don’t even need to be Marxists to refute such an illusion. It is enough to read systematically our newspapers nowadays and to use our mind and logic. And I don’t think there is much reason to insist more on Imperialism, speaking in a city with the history of Beijing.
Global Capitalism is responding now to its crisis by doing what it did during the 20th Century and what knows to do better than anything else: By producing totalitarianism inside its Metropoles, Wars outside them, using the crises as an opportunity to build a new Totalitarian Empire potentially aiming at englobing and controlling the whole World.
There is nothing surprising about that. The only astonishing thing is how easily we forget our own history and its lessons, when we don’t like them. Dismissing the lessons from our History, we condemn ourselves to repeat it.
The Heritage of the Chinese and the Russian Revolutions
Everyone can have an opinion and not necessarily the same one about the Chinese Revolution. Still, nobody can even imagine the tremendous, extraordinary, historically unprecedented progress China has made, since 1949, as far as it concerns education, economy, social achievements, without the degree of national sovereignty and independence of the State you acquired with this Revolution and without the influence of socialist ideas and of popular classes upon this State. This remark is also valid for the period of the Reforms, when your partial integration to world capitalist economy, to the extent such integration has taken place, has taken place under your national control, under the control of a power which was not the instrument of international capitalism or of a Chinese bourgeoisie. It is already a long time we know that a national bourgeoisie can hardly exist. By its very nature and role, such a bourgeoisie tends to become, now more than ever, a tool of Global Capitalism.
What I just said about the Chinese Revolution, it can be also stated about the Russian Revolution, which preceded and inspired yours. One may agree or disagree with many of the things Lenin and the Bolsheviks did, or the path the Soviet regime did choose in various historical moments. Still, it is simply inconceivable, impossible even to imagine, Russia industrializing and educating itself, winning over German Nazism in WWII and becoming a space, nuclear and “ideological” superpower without the regime it inherited from its revolution. Even nowadays, the capacity of Russia to claim strategic parity with the US and resist Western imperialist pressure is provided by the weapons and technologies, the personnel and the tradition of independence it inherited from its Soviet past.
One can be as critical as he desires judging the Soviet regime, its triumphs and its tragedies, some of which having constituted very heavy blows to the very idea of Socialism itself. Not only we can, we must compare reality to ideals. We must not use real difficulties as a pretext to justify unjustifiable action and policies, but, in the same time, we cannot judge human enterprises in nihilo, without taking into account the real historical context that shaped them.
Why the Chinese and Russian Revolutions
Since already some centuries, the dominating tendency of the world system is the increasing interdependence of all nations, states and regions of the world. The Chinese Revolution would not happen if this was not already a reality in the 19th and 20th centuries. The reason China had to choose the road of Revolution in the 20th century was the interrelationship of all nations in our world. This interrelationship made impossible for China to resist Western and Japanese Imperialism and exist as a modern state. Only by its Revolution, China was able to exist as a state. This Revolution was a national revolution, but a national revolution of any oppressed nation in our days, has to be also a social revolution, because only by mobilizing popular classes it is possible, in the long run, to resist Imperialism. The dominant, possessing classes cannot and rarely want to do it. This is also a great lesson, from the adventures of Kuomitang China to those of the Soviet or post-Soviet Bureaucracy!
It was not Mao who discovered China, it was China which discovered Mao and, with him and behind him, Lenin and Marx. China did that because otherwise it could not exist as a modern state. Before China, the same happened with Russia. It had to discover and it did discover Lenin and Marx behind him, not the other way around, because it was unable to face otherwise, with its previous regime, the pressure of the outside world. All three Russian Revolutions, in 1905 and 1917, have been the direct result of military defeats and the same is true of the Chinese Revolution. We find the influence of external factors also in your Reforms. I suppose one of the main reasons behind them, was the pressure felt by the productivity differential with Western, advanced capitalist economies.
This deep, accelerating, explosive in its consequences interrelationship which is characterizing our world is one main reason we need to examine everything proceeding from the general to the partial, from the Total to the Part.
Interacting with Global Capitalism
Some people will argue that the unprecedented economic rise of China during the last decades is due to the concessions you have done to the Foreign Capital. The Chinese reforms have been an object of many debates internationally and will remain such an object for a considerable time in the future. I am not a specialist on that subject, and I am here rather to learn than to lecture about your Reforms.
But even if one compares the economic performance of China and the performance of other countries in the region during the last economic crisis in Asia, at the end of the 20th century, it becomes clear where China could have been without the national control of your interaction with world’s economy and without the elements of planning that remained in place during the reforms, in spite of any so-called openings to the market. The fact is that international capital has invested in a number of peripheral countries during the last decades, but it was very rare for those countries to get some profit out of those investments, as China was able to do.
It is a huge mistake to identify the notion of planning, much more of socialism for that matter, with strict state, bureaucratic and hierarchical, top-down control of all economic activity. Especially in the light of the experience of supposed socialist construction in various countries of the world, we should now understand a transition to socialism, meaning the transition to a society ruling itself, as a long, contradictory process, subject to possible reversals, during which Market and Plan mechanisms, state, social and private forms of ownership coexist in perpetual antagonism. Even the Plan can implement its goals via market mechanisms.
Anyway, it is clear that without national control of your interaction with the world and without some important elements of planning, China would be a very different and much less successful country than it is. And if you had integrated financial globalization as Russia did and as the International Finance through Americans are pressing you to do, then you would be subject to much more stronger outside pressures and possible blackmails than you are now.
China and Russia: Two models of interaction with Capitalism
There is no more striking proof of everything I just said, than the comparison of China and Russia, a comparison of tremendous historical significance, not only for those two countries, but for the whole world, as both countries tried, but in very different ways, to interact with Western Capitalism, even to integrate it to some degree, during the last three decades. But while China has kept under its control this process, Russia delivered the control to the West. China did listen to Western advice as Russia did, but China applied only what it thought it had to apply.
Russian power under Gorbachev and even more under Yeltsin did a very different choice and followed a different path than China. Russian leaders used the IMF methods of capitalist “shock therapy”, they got rid of their state and of the social and national functions this state was performing, they lifted all barriers to the activity of foreign capital, they even gave more privileges to foreign than Russian capital was enjoying, they applied to the letter all Western economic advise. They became the best pupils of international Neoliberalism and Western Capitalism.
What happened as a result of all that? The ex-Soviet Union was dislocated into more than a dozen poor, weak and dependent states. Its GDP has fallen by 82% in just three years, from 1989 to 1992, or by 55% if measured in Power Purchasing Parity. To give a measure of the disaster, that is more than double the fall of the GDP of the USA during the Great Depression of 1929, the most important crisis in the history of the Industrial era.
The Soviet welfare state was nearly eliminated and with it the demographics of the ex-USSR, the male Russian population having lost approximatively one year of life expectancy for every year of the Yeltsin reforms. The ex-USSR has known about a dozen bloody conflicts and ten million people became refugees. An undeclared, still very real Civil War, between the new Rulers of the country and its people, has ravaged Soviet society.
It is only logical that very few people want to speak about that and nearly everybody prefers to forget it or blame communism and not its fall for what happened or present all that as the price of a so called Transition God knows where. Unfortunately, there has not been any Emile Zola in the ex-Soviet Union to describe the destruction of its society.
The sheer fact, proven by simple statistics, not by any ideologically oriented view, is that Russia and the other Soviet Republics have suffered, as a result of the massive, unhindered, full introduction of capitalist production relations, capitalist distribution relations and capitalist system of values, and of the strict application of Western economic, neoliberal dogmas and IMF and World Bank suggestions, by far one of the greatest, probably the greatest economic, social, demographic and cultural catastrophe in all world history of the Industrial era. It was in the ex-Soviet Union, as a result of the social catastrophe, that we have witnessed even the return of slavery in the white race.
One must turn to the example of Germany in 1945, destroyed systematically by US and British air force or to that of some regions of Europe under German Nazi rule, to find something comparable to what happened in USSR after 1990. The geopolitical disaster President Putin has spoken about, referring to the dissolution of USSR, was to a great extent the result and subsequently it became also partly a reason of this unprecedented economic, social and cultural disaster, the economic-social catastrophe fueling the geopolitical one and vice-versa. The Soviet Union was built around the idea of Socialism and it had not any other legitimization basis or raison d’ etre. By quitting Socialism there was no logic in keeping USSR. And vice-versa in order to quit Socialism, USSR had to be dislocated.
To those, already absolutely catastrophic results of the dislocation of the Soviet system, one has to add the international repercussions of all that, the chain of catastrophic wars from Yugoslavia to Syria, or the reappearance of a major danger of nuclear conflict we are now witnessing, all of which would be inconceivable if the USSR would not collapse, or, to be more exact, if its regime did not decide to commit suicide and adhere to Western Capitalism, following to the letter its terms.
The culmination of this destructive process came in October 1993, when, upon incitement and suggestion by Washington, President Yeltsin has bombed his own Parliament, maybe the most democratically elected in all Russian History, thus creating the political conditions for the massive transfer of the property of the soviet and then Russian state to a handful of Oligarchs, of Russian nationality, but of dubious loyalty to their state and their nation. As a result, we had a huge “accumulation of Russian capital”, but not so much in Russia itself, as in Switzerland, Great Britain, Luxembourg and other places!
The enormous cost of transition to Capitalism
In a way, both Russia and China did the same thing, trying, during the last three decades, to interact more intensively and deeply with world capitalism. But Russia delivered the control of that process to world capitalism, while China kept it under its own control. China has kept a considerable degree of national control over any foreign dependence, a state and ideology reference to the social interests of the population and the goal of Socialism, some elements of planning mechanisms. Into the very kernel of the Chinese national ideology remained very much the memory of the “Enemy”, of the Western and Japanese Imperialism, occupying and burning the Palaces of your capital.
On the contrary, the Soviet and then the Russian Yeltsin regime made all possible concessions to Western capitalism, economic, geopolitical, cultural and ideological. In the process of capitalist restoration, they gave to Western Capitalism everything, even raising it into a beacon of civilization, thus indirectly admitting Russia was uncivilized. They had to do it and to be so radical in order to justify the plundering of Russian state and social property, the rise of a new possessing class, closely connected, and it could not be otherwise, with the main centers of Western Capitalism in USA, Western Europe and Israel. They also destroyed in the process the image of Imperialism as an enemy in the Russian national and state ideology. This did not happen by accident. It was necessary in order to complete capitalist restoration. They needed badly to present West as a model, in order to justify the creation of a new class of owners and to follow the method of neoliberal shock therapy. There was no other legitimization method. Forgetting the very reasons the Soviet Union came into existence, admiring blindly the West, Russian leaders promised to their population a ticket to Sweden, but their plane landed finally to Burkina Faso, because Capitalism is not only the club of a few privileged.
Gorbachev and Yeltsin did not bury Lenin himself, who is still lying outside the Kremlin, but they buried everything connected with him and all his ideas, in particular his analysis of Imperialism, the Last Stage of Capitalism, on which all his political action has been based and also the political action of the Chinese Communists after him. Now History, which has a very peculiar way to lough with Humans, is teaching Russia, in very practical and rather hard way, the veracity of nearly every phrase the founder of the Soviet state has written about Imperialism. It is doing this in Donbass, in Syria and in many, many other places. It is also doing that with the new Cold War and NATO expansion and in many other ways. The Kremlin leaders thought they would become part of the West by getting rid of Communism. Instead, Russia is now facing more and more aggressive NATO armies at the very heart of what was once the Soviet Union!
Rarely in History, there has been such a massive, overwhelming denial of strategic assumptions and political hopes, as the one which took place in the Soviet Union and then Russia, as a result of adopting blindly all western and neoliberal receipts.