The USSR abandoned the New Economic Policy primarily because the bureaucratic tendency gathered around Stalin saw the accumulation of wealth and power by rich peasants and traders as the threat to their political power. They embarked on an ultra-left process of forced socialist accumulation by universal nationalisation and collectivisation. This policy led to famine and chaos, but it simultaneously shaped the characteristics of the mode of bureaucratic planning that donned the mantle of socialism until 1989.
It was the distance between the urban masses and the bureaucratic administration and state power that exploded in social discontent in 1989 in Eastern Europe. This led to the overthrow of bureaucratically planned economies in one country after another dealing a major blow to world socialism. There were many who argued at that time for a reformed and democratic socialism, but due to prolonged periods of economic stagnation they were rapidly sidelined and swept away, as bureaucrats turned into kleptocrats, and formed an unholy alliance with Western capitalists. In this way they moulded the new world order on the bones of the planned economies.
It is therefore extremely interesting that there is such an acute awareness expressed in Hu Jintao's speech of the need to face up to drastic changes in the world environment and inspire party members, particularly the youth, to boldly innovate, enrich and develop Marxist ideas on the basis of systematic study and scientific practice.
One of the areas in which Chinese Marxists can play a vital role is in the struggle to create effective forms of democratic management of enterprises. It is universally known that China encouraged foreign investment in labor intensive operations for three decades. This served to acquire capital and know-how and to provide employment for migrants, but it simultaneously produced capitalist forms of exploitation, which are often the focal point for the expression of mass incidents of unrest, strikes and demonstrations. They are also the main focal point for anti-Chinese and anti-communist propaganda in the West.
All this can be rapidly changed. A few years ago China was universally condemned for its environmental destruction, now China is the world's leading investor in Green technology and is creating test-bed environmental cities, towns and villages, which will be world models of environmentalism.
A radical shift in the condition of China's working class is likewise underway. The policies to expand the welfare, social security, pensions and healthcare provision, and the construction of tens of millions of low cost apartments for the masses are major advances for the working class. In addition big wage rises of between 20-40 percent, following labor unrest last year, are a very good step forward. However the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is far less proactive in the defence of workers' rights than they should be, now this appears to be changing for the better.
The meteoric rise in membership of the ACFTU to over 220 million workers over recent years is the result of systematic recruitment, increasing awareness of legal rights, and the extension of workers rights in the Labor Law of 2008. The grass-roots members of the trade unions, and the workers in general, must be encouraged to stand up for their rights, express their grievances and channel their power into the ACFTU, in order to generate an organized expression of the struggle to realise the workers' legal and constitutional rights. They can expose employers who break the law and officials who are corrupt and abuse power, and this can act as an essential check on power. Workers who feel in command of their work are more likely to generate innovative and creative solutions, which results in increases in the productivity of labor.
China's Labor and Enterprise Laws provide workers with paper legal rights far superior to workers in most advanced capitalist countries, but paper rights must be realized by action. The Chinese workers' constitutional right to elect their managers and democratically administer major enterprises is a right that is unheard of in the Western world. Wherever it is realized it will act as a beacon to progressive people worldwide.
While workers' control did not function efficiently in the USSR in the early 1920s, it rapidly gave way to one-man management. In Yugoslavia the democratic election of the management by the workers existed from 1948-1989, and despite many problems it did foster social harmony and economic well-being for the workers. A stark contrast with the wars and ethnic cleansing that subsequently tore that country apart! In Israel, Kibbutz systems functioned relatively well for decades. Experiments with workers' control are being tried out in Venezuela and other South American countries, but generally in unfavourable conditions. Perhaps the most vibrant and successful models of collective, democratic and efficient work processes are to be found in software production, in the free software movement and other similar collaborative intellectual endeavours. The issue of democratic control over work processes and management is a vital area for research and experimentation for anyone seeking to develop and create socialist forms of democratic administration.
China has the means to test-bed systems of democratic management, not simply as nostalgic throwbacks to Maoist collectivism, but as practical means of organising social production and modern life. Test-bed experiments were the foundation for the development of many of the most successful advances in the reform era and before. The Household Responsibility System, Township and Village Enterprises, Village Elections, and Special Economic Zones, were all scientifically tested before they were generalized into state policy. Why should experiments in workers' control and democratic administration not produce new breakthroughs in democratic enterprise management, galvanising the innovation, creativity and energy of the masses?
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
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