A New Socialist Economy:
Politics in Command

By Raymond Lotta

Revolutionary Worker #1073, October 8, 2000

The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA announced last year its plan for forging a new Programme--a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Programme--for making and winning revolution in the United States.

The RCP is calling on people to help produce this new Programme. The Party wants to work with people to do research and investigation into the class structure and social fabric of the U.S. It wants to engage people in discussion, wrangling, and debate: about issues of analysis, about its vision of a new society and about its strategy for creating such a new society. The Party wants to hear people's opinions and observations about the current (1981) Programme, and their suggestions for the new one.

To assist people in taking part in this project, the Revolutionary Worker is running a special reprint series which includes excerpts from the current Programme, from writings by the Chairman of the RCP, Bob Avakian, and from articles that have appeared in the Party press. The idea is to provide a background and grounding in certain Marxist-Leninist-Maoist principles, and in the Party's developing analysis of society and the revolutionary process.

We continue the series this week with excerpts from the Introduction and Afterword by Raymond Lotta, to the book, "Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism--The Shanghai Textbook."



A socialist revolution creates a new kind of economy. The means of production are no longer the private property of a minority of society but are placed under society's collective control. Economic resources are no longer employed to maximize profit but are utilized to meet the fundamental needs and interests of the masses of people. Social production is no longer carried out without prior plan or social purpose but is now shaped according to consciously adopted aims and coordinated as a whole. The mechanisms and motivations of capitalism give way to something new: social planning, social cooperation, and conscious mass participation in all aspects of economic and social development. The potential for varied and all-sided human activity that the powers of social production have put within reach can begin to be realized.

All of which is to say that the misery, the dehumanization, and the inequality that are daily life under capitalism need not be. The great gap between rich and poor, the scourge of unemployment, the oppression and degradation of women, the subjugation of and discrimination against whole nations and nationalities, the problems of health care, housing, and urban decay... these and other sores of class society can be taken on and overcome. The desperate, competitive struggle of all against all to survive and claw their way ahead need not be. The creativity, energy, and fierceness of purpose of the "nobodies" on the bottom of society can be unleashed on a vast and transformative scale. Problems can be taken up for collective solution: the needs and direction of society can be wrangled over by people in their millions. And through this process of struggle and debate, people can change in ways unimaginable under the present order. Socialism makes this possible.

We live in a world in which the life activities of the laboring majority are subject to the controlling power of a minority whose interests are opposed to theirs. We live in a world in which people's lives are ruled by blind economic forces: the spontaneous movement of a stock or commodity price can, literally overnight, alter the lives of millions throughout the world. But with the creation of a system of socially organized and socially directed production, humanity crosses an historic threshold. The structure and functioning of society will no longer be wrapped in mystery but can become known to the community of individuals who make it up. The economic system and society as a whole will no longer confront the masses of people as something external, alien, and dominating but rather will be something they are more and more consciously taking hold of, transforming, and mastering in their own interests...

Maoism emphasizes that economic development by itself is not enough, nor is it the essence of socialism. Growth must serve and be guided by larger political and social goals--fundamentally, the quest of the proletariat and laboring people to master all of society and ultimately to eliminate classes on a world scale. Economic change and the creation of social wealth must be accompanied by change in every sphere of society, including very importantly change in people's outlook and thinking. Maoism emphasizes that people not "things" are decisive. The conscious activism of the laboring people, not the capital stock or level of technology as such, are the crucial variables, of economic and social development. The laboring people must master technology, not the other way around. And Maoism emphasizes that the socialist project hinges on its constant reinvigoration: the revolution must continue and the class struggle must be continually waged in order to transform society and the world. Yes, this is a radically different approach to economics and to the development of society overall.

When The Shanghai Textbook was published in 1975, China was still undergoing the extraordinary struggle and ferment of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Factories in Shanghai and in many other cities were experimenting with new forms of worker participation in management. Peasants were discussing the ways that Confucian patriarchal and authoritarian values still influenced their lives. Scientists were conducting research among and sharing understanding with workers rich in practical experience. Administrators were routinely called on the carpet for losing touch with the people. Engineers became workers, teachers became students, political officials became garbage collectors, and vice versa! This was a society, and friend and foe alike would scarcely disagree, that was consciously ranging itself against capitalism.

No aspect of economic development and organization was taken for granted-- whether it be the supposedly inescapable trajectory of "modernization" and urbanization (revolutionary China took bold steps to break with the traditional Western and the more recent Third World patterns of chaotic and lopsided city and industrial growth, and to integrate industry with agriculture and town with countryside); or technology (the Maoists emphasized that the design, applications, and relationship of people to technology are shaped not only by the development of the productive forces but also by the social relations of an economic system); or the very notion of what constitutes economic efficiency and optimality (which were seen in broader economic and social terms rather than in a narrow cost-effectiveness frame). This was a socialism that dared challenge not only the brutal profit-above-all calculus and stultifying methods of organization of capitalism but its whole "me first" mind-set as well. "Serve the people" was not just a slogan emblazoned on the walls of factories, schools, hospitals, and retail stores; it was an ideological benchmark against which tens of millions judged themselves and others. This was a revolution that promoted initiative, creativity, and daring... but for the sake of the collectivity not for oneself.

China, it need hardly be said, is a very different society today. After Mao Tsetung died in 1976, rightist forces led by Deng Xiaoping staged a military coup. The systematic dismantling of socialism, the restoration of capitalism, and the resubordination of China to imperialism were to begin...


"Without a correct political approach to the matter the given class will be unable to stay on top, and consequently will be incapable of solving its production problems either."


"Grasp revolution, promote production."

slogan of the Cultural Revolution

What is the fundamental objective of socialist planning--economic growth per se, or moving beyond the framework of commodity production and money and forging a new society? What should be its main criteria of success--efficiency, productivity, and profitability, or the degree to which collective mastery over society is promoted? The issue boils down to this: what kind of growth, and for what purpose?

A socialist society must mobilize productive resources and accumulate and deploy a social surplus (the portion of social product above and beyond what is necessary to reproduce society at the same level of development). But as Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has pointed out, "the decisive question is not whether a surplus will be produced, nor its exact size, nor the most efficient means of producing the greatest surplus but whether the surplus will be produced through means, guided by principles, and utilized in such a way as to make the greatest possible strides at every point toward the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, above all." In socialist society, the invisible hand or the market must replaced by the visible hand of politics. This is not to deny that socialist planning must pay attention to cost and strive to economize on labor power, materials, and funds. But that must be subordinate to revolutionary politics. (For instance, when the Chinese revolutionaries decided to locate industry in the less developed interior regions, this was not undertaken because it was the most efficient way of expanding total industrial production. It served the goal of reducing regional differences and inequalities. But once these factories were established, efforts were made to run them efficiently.)

There is no aspect of economic development, no form of economic organization, no organization of the labor process that exists outside of specific production and class relations. The most basic issues of economic development--what to produce, how, for whom, and for what--cannot be answered, indeed cannot be understood, except in class terms. Capitalist "efficiency" is class bound; it is based on maximizing worker output and minimizing worker resistance, on shackling the producers and their collective creative capacities. Economic "rationality" has no meaning apart from the class relations it embodies and reproduces and the ends it serves. This is an incredibly important component of Maoist thought.

For the Maoist revolutionaries, socialist development had to be linked with overcoming disparities between industry and agriculture, between town and country, nationalities, men and women, and between mental and manual labor. And putting politics in command fundamentally meant making sure that economic strategy promoted the revolutionary transformation of society, relied on social mobilization and the spread of socialist values, and served the cause of world revolution.

In a socialist society, the masses must be politically armed. They must know what is needed and what the problems are, learn from advanced experience, have initiative in their hands, and be engaged in struggle over the goals and nature of planning. The lesson Mao summed up was that by putting politics in command--not experts, not computers not regulations and production quotas, and certainly not profits -- problems of economic development could be solved and the economy could be pushed forward in the interests of the masses...

For economic planning to be effective, there must be a society-wide commitment to carry it through. Otherwise, there can be no real coordination, no real planning. But how does this happen?

The Maoist revolutionaries summed up that an administrative system that tries to rule by regulation and that mainly tries to police people into sticking by regulation would not only become excessively bureaucratic but also wouldn't work. It is relatively easy for any level of authority to get around external controls and regulations issued from above. As Mao pointed out in 1957, "regulations alone will not work... men's minds must change." Thus the importance of the ideological dimension, the need to shape the ideological environment in which decisions are taken at all levels, and the importance of collective responsibility, of people internalizing goals and engaging in vigorous political struggle.

The point is that planning is not only subject to technical and administrative constraints but to political factors and to the limitations imposed by ideology. It takes place in the context of class struggle in society. Towards what kinds of transformations is planning oriented? For whom and for what? These are not givens but issues of struggle. For Mao the issue to solve was not principally one of the enforcement mechanisms of planning authority versus the prerogatives of managers, but rather the role of the masses. The masses must grasp what is politically necessary and have wide knowledge of the whole system--its economic law, its goals, its contradictions--so that they themselves become the actors rather than the inert material acted on by market or bureaucratic planing processes, so that they can analyze and act on contradictions... so that they can regulate the regulators.

Rather than administering by technical and economic standards, the Chinese revolutionaries fostered non- and anti-bureaucratic methods for communicating policy and raising a different kind of standard, that of advanced experience and moral example. They popularized and encouraged people to learn from model institutions--rural brigades, communes, or factories--that implemented the general line. These were studied (and in many cases, first-hand, with peasants and workers from various parts of the country visiting actual sites). But these models were not studied to be strictly copies, as if they were blueprints. The idea was for people to learn how problems were analyzed and overcome, how breakthroughs were made in the face of resistance from capitalist roaders, what advances were made in reorganizing property and social relations as well as the continuing political and technical problems, and how to apply these lessons to local conditions. The experience of building the Red Flag Canal (a monumental collective effort by peasants that vastly increased the amount of irrigated land), or fighting cruel natural conditions in the rural Tachai Brigade when it was a revolutionary stronghold, were examples of the masses conquering all kinds of difficulties and defying convention in economic construction. The Anshan (Steel Works) Constitution set a standard of revolutionary industrial management. In short, these models enabled people to grasp more deeply both the goals and methods of the communist revolution.

At the same time, national political campaigns were vehicles to focus mass attention on and sharpen awareness about key issues confronting society. Several such campaigns, like those to criticize and restrict bourgeois right and to criticize Confucian ideas of subservience and blind submission to authority, were launched by the revolutionary forces in the early and mid-1970s in the context of the struggle between the capitalist and socialist roads and the two-line struggle in the party. The aim was to arm people to make decisions and evaluate activities with broader interests in mind and to figure out what class interests were in fact being served by particular institutions and policies, and to strengthen the capacity of the masses to wage the struggle to maintain and extend political power.

The proletariat's political power is concentrated in its state. The proletariat needs a state to represent its interests. It is not enough to leave things at the local level or at the level of the individual factory. The proletariat needs to take up questions of society and the world--politics, culture, and ideology. One of the guiding insights of the Cultural Revolution was that the laboring people, through their experience in struggle and study of Marxism, had to grasp the link between two-line struggle over questions of economics and two-line struggle over issues in other realms. the revisionists' economic policies were part of an overall program to turn the masses back into beasts of burden. And if the masses were to wage, much less win, the battle on any front, including economics, and prevent capitalist restoration, they had to be concerned with and influence what was happening in society overall. And so it was extremely significant that enterprises were transformed from mere production units into what Mao called "universities of class struggle" where theoretical study groups were set up, where proletarian cultural activity took place among other things. At the same time. worker and peasant teams came in to the universities in connection with the larger political struggle. The fact is that it would not have been possible to initiate and carry through the radical transformations in economic organization, management, and the labor process that have been discussed if ordinary laboring people were not politically mobilized around these broader issues.

The proletariat needs to transform society in its entirety--the condition of women, the oppression of minority nationalities, the values promoted by the education system, and so on. It needs a state to see to it that political, social, and economic transformations are carried out in a way that serves the world revolution. And it needs a state to defend its rule against the forces that would bring back and impose the old order. But all this means nothing unless the worekrs are actually becoming masters of the state, waging struggle over the nature and actions of this state. Because who controls the state will ultimately determine who controls the means of production. This is why politics must command economics.

Fundamentally, a plan must concentrate the advanced experiences and aspirations of the masses; it must be constructed for their use, and it must unleash their initiative. This requires political leadership of a specific type--not a dominating clique but a real vanguard party with links to and serving the people, a vanguard capable of leading people forward through the complex struggle to bring a new society into being and to revolutionize the vanguard itself. This too is what it means to put political in command.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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