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Red Theory: The contradictions of socialist society

By J. Sykes

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Contradiction is inherent in everything and is what causes things to change qualitatively. In socialist society there are also contradictions. Socialism is the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, where the working class uses its state power to take society out of capitalism and towards the classless and stateless society of communism.

As a period of transition from capitalism to communism, socialism, of course, also contains many contradictions. After expropriating the means of production from the capitalists, a primary task of socialism is to develop the productive forces.

Transitioning to communism fundamentally depends on developing the productive forces and eliminating scarcity in order to be able to move from distribution based on work to distribution based on need. However, that isn’t all that must be done. Socialism must also resolve a number of other contradictions that continue to exist in socialist society.

There is an ongoing class struggle in socialist society. And there are also the contradictions that the Chinese communists called the “Three Major Differences” – the contradiction between workers and peasants, between town and country, and between mental and manual labor. There is also the contradiction between the leaders and the led, as well as contradictions that arise from the legacy of national oppression and patriarchy in the old society. Let’s look at the ways in which socialism can address these contradictions. Even though the particulars of how to resolve the contradictions arising from socialist revolution in the United States will have to be worked out concretely according to conditions, we can still draw some lessons from the experience of socialist construction in the socialist countries up to now.

The class struggle continues under socialism. As Mao Zedong put it,

“Socialist society covers a considerably long historical period. In the historical period of socialism, there are still classes, class contradictions and class struggle, there is the struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road, and there is the danger of capitalist restoration. We must recognize the protracted and complex nature of this struggle, distinguish the contradictions between ourselves and the enemy from those among the people and handle them correctly. Otherwise a socialist country like ours will turn into its opposite and degenerate, and a capitalist restoration will take place.”

Socialism puts the working class in power and abolishes the private ownership of the means of production, but it also still resembles the old, capitalist society in some ways. This is unavoidable, due to the nature of bourgeois right, as we discussed previously. Socialism still has wage labor with a range of pay, distribution according to work, commodity production and exchange through money. While the pillars of industry, big factory farms, utilities, and big corporations would all be nationalized, some small businesses and family farms may continue to be privately owned for a period. Surplus value from labor, while no longer going to enrich the capitalists privately, still continues to exist, though it is redirected into developing the productive forces and other projects for the public good.

Bourgeois right, if unchecked, creates fertile ground for capitalist restoration by fostering inequality. Because a task of the socialist system is to restrict and finally eliminate bourgeois right, there will still be those who struggle to return to the old ways. Some corrupt individuals will try every trick they can think of to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses of the people. They want to return to capitalism, where anti-social behavior like that is rewarded. Instead, the proletarian dictatorship must wage a ceaseless and merciless class struggle against all of those who try to fleece the people and who strive to return to the old ways of exploitation and oppression.

Largely, this class struggle takes place in the superstructure. There, the party must struggle against tendencies towards capitalist restoration. As Stalin’s 1928 work “The Right Danger in the C.P.S.U.(B.)” explains, the rightist ideological trend towards capitalist restoration is based materially on remnants of capitalist production within the socialist system. The material conditions that necessitate bourgeois right must therefore be abolished step by step, through developing the productive forces to eliminate scarcity, improving infrastructure, developing industry, mechanizing and collectivizing agriculture, creating things like public cafeterias and childcare, and so on.

This also means the “three major differences” must be addressed, based on the concrete conditions that socialism inherits from the previous system. The contradiction between the working class and the peasantry is resolved mainly through the mechanization and collectivization of agriculture. Landlords must be expropriated, and land redistributed. We can draw upon the experience of systems like agricultural cooperatives and collective farming to do this in a scientific way based on particular conditions.

The contradiction between the town and country can be resolved through infrastructural improvements (such as developing an efficient public railway system that reaches thoroughly into the countryside), and through a concentrated effort to bring employment, educational and cultural opportunities out of the cities where they are concentrated and into the small towns and rural areas.

The contradiction between mental and manual labor is broken down step by step. First, the bloated administrative “middle management” should be scaled down and eventually eliminated. The gap in pay between mental workers (such as administrative workers, technicians, and engineers) and manual workers should be progressively reduced. Socialist automation should reduce the physical strain and time required for manual labor and improve the quality of life of workers. An important element to resolving these three major differences is raising the technical, educational and cultural level of the broad masses of the people.

The contradiction between the leaders and the led will exist throughout socialist society, and perhaps into communist society for a period as well, but it too must be handled correctly. There are many elements to this, from seeking to develop new and fresh leadership, especially from the most historically oppressed sections of the working class, such as among women, LGBTQ people, and oppressed nationalities. It also means promoting broad proletarian democracy and a spirit of mass participation and criticism.  In 1928, Stalin discussed this in “Speech Delivered at the Eighth Congress of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League,” in terms of “organizing mass criticism from below.” Stalin said that it was an immediate task “to wage a ruthless struggle against bureaucracy, to organize mass criticism from below, and to take this criticism into account when adopting practical decisions for eliminating our shortcomings.” The party can guide and set parameters for such criticism, but it is an essential element to building and maintaining a healthy proletarian democracy.

In our forthcoming articles we will look closely at how socialism can resolve the contradictions arising from the legacy of national oppression and patriarchy in the old society. In any case, it should be clear that all of these contradictions demand very careful attention. The working class is the first class in history that does not benefit materially from the exploitation and oppression of others, and as such, it is its historic mission to eliminate all exploitation and oppression. Socialism, the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, is its main tool for resolving these contradictions and advancing towards communism.

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