Roads to Socialism

by James West*

The qualities of resiliency and revolutionary patience are integral to communism and Communists. Recovery from setbacks and defeats, overcoming difficulties and obstacles and rising up stronger than ever are characteristic communist features. This is seen in the process underway in the world today, including in the Communist Party, USA.

It is to be seen in Russia and other Eastern European countries. It is clearly evident in the unique roads to building socialism opened up in Vietnam, China, Korea and Cuba.

It is in the course of coping with and solving urgent needs and concerns of the masses that viable ways to travel the roads to socialism are being worked out. In the process, the theory of Marxism-Leninism is further developed and refined.

The draft Political Report to the upcoming 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, places key questions this way:

Vietnam is moving into a new period – that of pressing ahead with the industrialization and modernization of the country. The path to socialism in Vietnam has been ever more clearly defined.

To persist firmly in the goals of national independence and socialism throughout the process of renewal. To handle correctly the relationship between renewal of the political system and economic renewal, and to closely combine economic renewal and political renewal from the start. Economic renewal and the building of a multi-sector commodity economy operating along the market mechanism must be accompanied by the strengthening of the role of state management along the socialist line. Economic growth must go hand in hand with social progress and equity, the preservation and promotion of the national cultural identity and the protection of the environment and the ecological system.

To broaden the all-people great unity and promote the aggregate strength of the entire nation. To constantly expand international cooperation, to win the sympathy, support and assistance of the world people, and combine the strength of the nation with that of the time. To firmly maintain the leading role of the Party and to consider Party building a key task.” (Our emphasis, JW)

The People’s Republic of China has taken the road of intensive, all-round development through establishing what it calls a “socialist market economy,” based on a multi-sector economic policy. It is widely recognized that it has achieved one of the highest growth rates in the world.

Taking advantage of investment offers from a number of capitalist countries, Cuba has begun to move in a comparable direction because of the severe economic blockade by U.S. imperialism.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, faced with the devastation and growing poverty that capitalist inroads have made, has declared its readiness to use a mixed economy of private and state owned enterprises to pull Russia out of the “free market” morass.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) recently concluded an agreement for a joint venture on its territory with a major South Korean industry and is reported to be considering others.

Do these developments mean that Communists are departing from the principles of scientific socialism? That is what critics and enemies from the phony left, and even some on the extreme right, repeatedly charge.

These malicious attacks have their origin in distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies about socialism, fermenting in the minds of bourgeois pundits.

Socialism and Communism

High on the list of distortions is the confusion sown about the relationship between socialism and communism, a deliberate failure to distinguish between the two stages of one revolutionary process.

Communism is a classless society, one in which antagonistic or incompatible classes no longer exist. Socialism is a society which prepares all the conditions for the emergence of the classless, communist, society. In other words, socialism is a period of transition from capitalism to communism.

It is, in fact, impossible to step directly into communism from capitalism as though in a play when the curtain comes down on act one and, presto, rise! on act two.

To be sure, the capitalist media persistently uses the term “communist countries,” promoting the confusion, eagerly gobbled up by the simple-minded propagandists of both the right and the phony left. No country in the world has reached the plateau of communism.

To confuse socialism with communism serves to obscure the historic significance and special importance and necessity, as well as the inevitability, of socialism. It is a stage of human development without which it is impossible to arrive at the crowning achievement of humankind, communism.

The mission of a socialist society is the most important ever faced by any preceding society. It must consciously and systematically clear the road of all obstacles blocking the advance to communism and plant the seeds of the future communist society.

It must work to remove all sources of exploitation of human by human, oppression of nation by nation, race by race, and of gender, age and national origin discrimination.

It must uncover, destroy and replace the contaminated soil in which war, racism, narrow nationalism, crime, corruption and illiteracy thrive.

It must inculcate such humane qualities as cooperation, concern for the common good and health of all, of humanity as the guardian of the ecological system and nature’s bounty.

And, it must do all this while taking immediate measures to house the homeless, provide jobs for the jobless, food for the hungry and meet other urgent needs which cannot wait until communism. At the same time, it must take all measures essential to defend the new socialist system from the capitalist class and its agents who will do whatever they can to regain power.

As life has shown, the class struggle goes or under socialism with the defining difference that it takes place with the formerly-exploited classes – the workers and farmers – as well as the oppressed minorities, in power, in control of the government.

It should be apparent that none of the Herculean tasks facing socialism can be accomplished at one fell swoop anywhere, let alone evenly, at one time by all countries. In other words, it takes place unevenly on a world scale.

In some countries, as in Socialist China, poverty still remains a problem to this day, although a diminishing one as the government successfully struggles to make appreciable headway from year to year. In other countries, such as the U.S.A., socialism would take much less time to eliminate poverty and all its attendant ills due to our more advanced and widely developed productive capacities.

One must take into account the world context in which the socialist countries contend with the immense tasks before them. Imperialism, like a tiger on the prowl, keeps a sharp eye out for any and every opportunity to turn them away from socialism, into prey for voracious capitalism. Armed with the world’s largest arsenals of mass destruction weapons and armed forces stationed worldwide, U.S. imperialism uses intimidating powers to exploit openings for trade and investment in order to push and shove socialist countries onto the capitalist road.

It takes courage, deep understanding of the Marxist-Leninist laws of social development, boundless faith and reliance in the people and a strong, mass-based Communist Party to steer a course that advances socialism towards that communist goal. It is a road of struggle, of class struggle under new and different conditions. And it is not an easy road.

The socialist countries today need the understanding, the help and supportive solidarity of Communists and peace-minded, progressive people everywhere.

It is of no help to the struggles of the socialist countries for its friends to take a wait-and-see attitude to their efforts and problems. Because some socialist countries have a mixed economic situation, a multi-sector economy to cope with their problems, there are some who say, “It’s too soon to say it’s socialism. We first have to see which sector comes out on top.” A few even see it as out-and-out capitulation to capitalism.

Such “purists” have a flat, static, lifeless and non-struggle approach to socialism and social development. The element of struggle, of masses in motion, is absent in such thinking. It is simplistic to an extreme to reduce socialism to a one-dimensional state ownership of everything.

The draft report of the Communist Party of Vietnam is a fitting response to the fears and qualms of the poorly informed and those who underestimate the working class and overestimate capitalism. Reading it gives one the feeling that the theoretical and practical mistakes of Gorbachev are precisely the negative, destructive experiences against which the CPV is building safeguards.

Those who think that socialism means excluding forms other than state ownership of the entire economy should ponder the meaning not only of the well-known, short-lived New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by Lenin, but also the policy of collective farms, as well as state farms, under Stalin. The long established existence of cooperative farming in Czechoslovakia incorporated into the socialist economy and the existence for many years of privately-owned stores and even enterprises of up to 300 workers in the German Democratic Republic are further examples.

What then would be the common essential for socialism in all countries?

The Essentials of Socialism

It is essential that the “commanding heights” of the economy – the basic means of production, communications and transportation, the armed forces and security – be in the hands of the workers’ and farmers’ socialist government and that there be a strong, mass Marxist-Leninist party with a scientifically sound cadre close to the people.

The socialist government must, by law, have its hands on all levers that control the overall direction of the economy and that safeguard the interests of all the producers in society.

This is in direct contrast to such capitalist levers of control as the Federal Reserve Bank in the U.S.A and the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other levers of manipulation on behalf of corporate wealth at the expense of the people. That, of course, is the difference between a socialist government of workers and farmers and a government of, by and for corporate monopoly.

Given the control of the basic sectors of the economy in the socialist government’s hands, along with the power of overall regulation, there is room for other forms of ownership in the economy. That Vietnam and China chose to allow some forms of private ownership, including foreign ownership along with state ownership, cooperative ownership and some joint ownership, does not mean they have given up the fight to regulate and use all levers available to keep their countries moving persistently and resolutely to more and more socialism, on the way to communism.


* - James West is a member of the National Board of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. This article is taken from a longer article he wrote in the May 1996 issue of Political Affairs.

Spark! #8 – p. 28-32