Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pilipinas Forum 26: On State-Party Relations

Although I have stopped being a Marxist-socialist by early 90s, somehow I still have some "hang-over" on some Marxist concepts until early 2000s. Here's one such discussion a decade ago, on the relationship between a political party and the state. This is 7 pages long, enjoy.

State-Party Relations

January 2001

Nonoy, et al, Sometime ago I curiously read an article about certain communist intellectuals (not identified) talking about the time when there will be "separation of Party and state" ... just as the separation of church and state in capitalist countries.

They'd mean that the Party would just exert ideological influence and persuasion, not state or police power, to groups of individuals vying for public office over state policies and welfare.

If such were to happen and together with a genuine Bill of Rights, such socialist countries like Vietnam and China would not only catch up but even outdistance western countries. By then there would be a global convergence: social democracy (of the east) = democratic capitalism (of the west).

- Roy Picart

Roy, My understanding of state-party relations is:

(Pol.) Party - defines & explains the policies to the people, must aim to capture state power to implement said policies;

State - implements policies of the victorious pol. party. Though often in multi-party countries, the victorious pol. party enters into alliances with other smaller pol. parties to get majority seats in the legislature and to broaden its mass base and support. But in one-party states like China, Vietnam, N. Korea and Cuba, no need for party alliances as the opposition is always weak.

So in this definition, party-state separation of function is inherent in multi-party states. Such separation of function is also possible in one-party, communist governments. In slowly-democratizing communist govts. like China and Vietnam, state leaders and bureaucrats are not entirely accountable to their respective communist parties but to the general population, majority of whom are not party members. State leaders are striking a balance between their party (which is generally allergic to drastic reforms) and the general public (who want fast, wide-ranging economic liberalization and political democratization).

On social democracy, these are essentially the democratic capitalist states of the west at the moment. Specifically, the welfare states of Scandinavian and Western European countries. These capitalist countries sometimes turn off capitalist enterprises because of the high taxes which their govts. collect to give to the jobless (sometimes encouraging laziness), the sick, to subsidize their farmers, etc.

The convergence that you mention is actually happening now: capitalist countries that act like socialist states, and socialist countries that allow predominance of capitalist enterprises. Vietnam is a socialist country, but the streets of Hanoi, Saigon, Hue, etc. are full of tens of thousands of capitalist enterprises. China is a socialist country but Shanghai, Shenzen, even Beijing, are full of capitalist shops and firms.

Someday, ideologies will become good academic subjects in the schools worldwide, but they will lose their original spirits. They will soon converge with one basic ingredient that unifies their aspirations: information. Information will uplift world economies, substantially reduce poverty as we know it today. But information will never be made perfect for everyone. Just as the next guy has discovered his neighbor's "trade secrets", this neighbor has already developed a new product or service that is far superior to the one that was discovered by his competitor.

- nonoy

Dear Noy and Roy and All:

State-Party Relations:

Classical Marxism situates the relations between state and party within the framework of socialism as the class rule of the proletariat, and socialism as a transitional phase before society could progress to classless and stateless communism. State and party relations also relate to the conept of the "withering away of the state." The classics, in fact, may provide signposts in understanding the remaining socialist experiments.

The basic theoretical postulates on this matter may be outlined as follows:

a) Capitalism is an arrangement of social classes with the bourgeoisie exercising political hegemony over all the others, through the capitalist state;

b) The socialist revolution destroys this hegemony and transfers state power to the proletariat. Hence, Lenin defines socialism as "the dictatorship of the proletariat" or "the proletariat organized as the ruling class";

c) The immediate function of the socialist state is to preserve the dominance of the proletariat, and to serve as the coercive instrument of the the working class. This coercive role means defending the Communist Party and defeating its class enemies, since the CP is the repository of the will of the ruling class (the proletariat). Note that the socialist state, as with all other states, remains a coercive organ of power, existing within society but also above it;

d) There is nothing in classical Marxist theory which mandates a one-party state. Opposition to the CP is in no way a theoretical given. Impliedly, however, opposition should never challenge the socialist framework, perhaps as expressed in a socialist constitution and laws (this parallels the assumption in "democratic" regimes that opposition to particular governments should in no way challenge the very framework of capitalism [hence the frequent outlawing of CPs in these regimes]);

e) The second function of the socialist state is to further weaken the bourgeoisie by developing the socialist economy, thereby progressively denying the capitalist class its material bases. Instrumental in the achievement of this objective is central planning (as opposed to the "chaos" and "irrationality" of capitalism) and the elimination over the long-term of private ownership of the means of production;

f) As society, its culture, politics, and especially its economics, develop, and as the bourgeoisie and its opposition to the dominant proletarian class weakens and slides into oblivion, the classless society ideal approaches. The weakening of the bourgeoisie before the continued dominance of the proletariat also means a diminution in the virulence of the class struggle, and a corollary diminution in the importance of the coercive role of the socialist state;

g) Since the state is inherently coercive, removing class struggle as the justification for coercion leads to the corollary process known as "the withering away of the state" and the approach of the "stateless" social order;

i) Lenin and Trotsky (not Stalin) understood that the withering of the socialist state may not be possible unless socialism is victorious worldwide. In the meantime, "socialist islands amid a capitalist sea," could not afford to wither away. To an extent, this was proven true by the extremely coercive and overly bureaucratized, and nearly omnipotent states in socialist countries;

j) The socialist state, under certain historical circumstances, may even provide the framework and impetus for regulated capitalism, as when the state needs the modernizing effects of capitalism to destroy the vestiges of backward, pre-capitalist social formations, or when the socialist state is in need of energized production. But throughout these measures, the political dominance of the socialist state is jealously guarded;

k) It is the CP which determines shat the state (and its police, armies, jails, bureaucracies, and the other elements of state coercion) should do at given historical junctures, and it presides over the withering away of the state and the passage into communist society.

Some problems are obvious from the foregoing simplified theoretical outline. First among these: world socialist revolution is not forthcoming, so quo vadis?

- Raffy Aquino


Thanks for this rather brief but extensive review of socialist transformation. Though at present, i don't believe that a socialist set-up, a socialist party, and a socialist revolution are the alternatives to the present (on-going) Philippine catharsis. Having formally studied economics, I’m convinced that we just have to go back to theory and the related country experiences including our own, and we can find solutions to present-day problems. My thinking is that we have these problems because we have departed from some of the classic thinking that we learned from school.

Adam Smith and David Ricardo have been saying several centuries ago that big govt. participation in the economy when there are no apparent market failures is bad, yet our govts., including many of our left-leaning activist groups, have been experimenting/lobbying for more state role in our lives. Plato and Aristotle, Rousseau and Locke, have outlined who should be legislators, the justification and limits of the "social contract" by which govts. should be accountable, yet our way of electing legislators is sometimes a big joke, and our system of govt. is far from that of the social contract set-up. Our historians like Constantino and Agoncillo have been belaboring some of the evils perpetrated by our colonizers in the past, yet we seem not to heed these historical lessons.

Academicians and NGOs and people/professional organizations are fine in terms of articulating both their sectoral and macro aspirations. But only political parties with definite, clear-cut agenda - and have power and mandate - can make drastic changes in society. Or allow further social deterioration.

But political parties from the same socio-political group or class can fight and quarrel as hard as they would square off with the enemy class. Witness how the pro-CPP/NPA nat-dem groups would distrust their former comrades who have despised Joma Sison and the nat-dem agenda. That's why even if a proletariat party becomes victorious in toppling a capitalist state, it should allow other pol. parties, often fellow working class parties. The problem why all socialist states (previous and existing) have become one-party states can be rooted to theoretical defects in the Leninist definition of a proletariat party. Lenin & his successors have assumed that all workers have generally similar sentiments and aspirations. Which is wrong.

Workers in export-oriented firms favor trade liberalization and globalization. Workers in import-substituting and inefficient local industries hate trade liberalization. Other workers would prefer neither export-oriented nor import-substituting firms here and opt to work abroad instead. These groups of workers, though all of them have similar experience (don't own means of production, and subsist only in selling their labor), have dissimilar aspirations and interests. Thus, to lump them into only 1 political party since they are all "proletariat" is theoretically defective.

- Nonoy

Noy, I share the same sentiments. I also went through the route -- as the French say (paraphrased): If in your teens, you were not a communist, you had no heart. If in your twenties, you were not a socialist, you had no soul. But if in your thirties, you're not yet a capitalist, you left your brains somewhere (no offense to anyone meant).

In addition, I don't believe that a genuine bill rights and spiritual orientation is compatible or practicable in a socialist state, particularly in the marxist-leninist type -- yet applying even Mao's "Theory of Contradictions," if there's matter, there must be spirit.

- Roy

Roy, Some questions and comments re one of your early postings this year:
(On 1st paragraph) That is indeed a popular sentiment. But try studying the world through Hegel's dialectics. Understood and used correctly, the method often yields fresh and potent insights. Now, considering that Hegel was a main philosophical tributary to socialist thought, then perhaps not all old commies left their brains somewhere.

(On 2nd paragraph) I refer you to the early Marx which contains a vigorous humanism often deliberately forgotten by his critiques. As for Mao, I've always thought his understanding of the dialectic was Confucian (Yin-Yang?) rather than Hegelian. As for Stalin (the epitome of the old and dead brainless commie), he never understood the dialectic which was why Trotsky and not him was Lenin's chosen successor. Well, Stalin had Trotsky killed in Mexico. PS. Noy, now I remember why some activists did not particularly like me in UP).

You may be right about a bill of rights as evolved by liberal philosophers and legal scholars in constitutional democracies may not be workable in a socialist state. Such a state, I imagine, would be premised and entirely different philosophical foundations. Also, the materialist aspect of Marxism may indeed translate to relatively less attention paid to spiritual matters. Note, however, that nowhere in Lenin's major theoretical constructs on the Socialist State, does he advocate suppression of what you call "spiritual orientation"; and when he did become Premier, he was too busy fighting the Whites and the Western Allies, too busy appeasing the peasants while getting them to feed the cities, to really attend to cultural matters including the "spiritual orientation" of the Soviet Union.

- Raffy

Noy, Got to read some of your earlier postings this year. Some comments:

>Thanks for this rather brief but extensive review of socialist
>transformation. Though at present, i don't believe that a socialist set-up,
>a socialist party, and a socialist revolution are the alternatives to the
>present (on-going) Philippine catharsis.

Neither do I. I don't believe Herr Marx's (or Lenin's) socialism, especially in its pure late 19th and early 20th version, would be terribly helpful for us right now. But I felt your discussion on the state and party was not complete without revisiting Marxist and Leninist thought on these points.

That's why
>even if a proletariat party becomes victorious in toppling a capitalist
>state, it should allow other pol. parties, often fellow working class parties.


>The problem why all socialist states (previous and existing) have
>become one-party states can be rooted to theoretical defects in the
>Leninist definition of a proletariat party. Lenin & his successors have
>assumed that all workers have generally similar sentiments and aspirations.
>Which is wrong.

Where is this written? Lenin never advocated one-party rule, even in post-bourgeois state formations. In fact, in October 1917, his rallying cry was "All Power to the Soviets!", and not "All Power to the Bolsheviks!"

>Workers in export-oriented firms favor trade liberalization and
>globalization. Workers in import-substituting and inefficient local
>industries hate trade liberalization. Other workers would prefer neither
>export-oriented nor import-substituting firms here and opt to work abroad

Lenin advocated a highly disciplined party because this was the only way of pushing the Bolshevik agenda in a situation of extreme repression. The Soviets, however, were a different matter. There were as many soviets as there were sectors and strata within the working class at that time. Thus, there were soldiers and sailors soviets, railroad workers soviets, telegraph workers soviets, etc.; and within these soviets, there was full and open democracy and the Bolshevik representatives inside them were only a few among several others representing several other parties. In fact, the Bolsheviks were often in the minority in the major soviets in Moscow and St. Petersburg even up to the last days of the kerensky government. They
rallied, however, due solely to the rational force of their (and Lenin's) ideas.

The crises which moulded the admittedly highly regimented contours of the Leninist party lasted after the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in Oct. 1917, with the civil war with the white generals and their western allies, and with mutinies against the new socialist state caused by famine due to world war I and the said civil war.

Thereafter, when the nascent soviet state was a little more stable, Lenin wrote that the workers should intensify efforts to organize themselves into cooperatives according to their localized interests to promote popular self-administration as the "only" devise to advance socialism. (Lenin, On Cooperation, 4-6 January 1923).

These, clearly, are not the ideas of a thinker enamored with the idea of a one-party state nor of one who has "lumped" the proletariat into a monolithic whole.

We should not confuse Lenin's conviction that there can only be one "vanguard" party of the proletariat with the vulgar notion that the proletariat is entitled only to one party in socialism. But Lenin died in 1924 and the age of Stalin descended.

- Raffy Aquino

Nonoy and Roy,

May I add a bit about the issue at hand. The separation of the state and the party, or more appropriately the proper functioning of the state and the party is very much influenced by the presence and the participation of people's organizations who serve as constituents of the political parties, i.e. the source of their mass base support. For example in many european and or scandinavian countries where the trade unions and the farmers groups are well organized and strong, the state and the political party in power are in constant check. While there are already defined ideological basis for the programs of the party in power, but because of the strength and influence of people's organizations, there is a tendency for policies to shift in order to accommodate some sectors.For example in Norway, many trade union leaders are members of the Labour Party but in many instances, these party members have to support the call of union members to mount a strike to push for some political or economic demands. Even in Vietnam where there is only one predominant political party, policy decisions are being adjusted if there is a strong signal from the people's organizations, such as the farmers or the trade unions. There had been instances of Farmers demonstrations in Vietnam. Likewise, internal debates within the trade unions are putting party cadres within the unions in conflicting situations. At times these party cadres had to support the position of the trade union members for fear of being elected out of office. As the Vietnamese workers get more educated, there are now many grassroots trade union leaders who are not party members.

In short, there will always be a separation of function between the state and the political party if there are strong alternative centers of power within the society. For us in the Philippines, this is not so because the existing political parties do not have clear ideological principles and their programs are based on personalities not ideologies. The programs and policies of the state therefore is a mirror of the whims of the party or the personalities in power. As such we practically change programs and policies every election. Moreover, we don’t have strong people's organizations because they are fragmented into different factions. The funny thing is that the people's organizations such as the trade unions are fragmented also due to personality differences of their leaders not really due to ideological differences. Just look at the "reaffirm group" vs the "reject group" in order to confirm this observation- should we believe that their differences are ideological as they claim? Likewise look at the different so called "socialists" groups, what are their striking differences? The Business sector is fragmented, the military is fragmented, the women’s group are fragmented, the students organizations are fragmented.

What we need is education to achieve political and ideological maturity and not fall into the trap of personality cults. If this is attained then the convergence theory could be possible in the Philippines. The isms are only methodological principles to address social, economic and political problems. In the end I believe that people in political power will use combinations of approaches in order to solve the problems of society.

- Floro Francisco

See also:
Pilipinas Forum 1: Crime and Punishment, August 29, 2011
Pilipinas Forum 3: Is Marxism Still Relevant? August 30, 2011
Pilipinas Forum 5: Edsa 3 Aftermath, September 01, 2011
Pilipinas Forum 8: On the Abu Sayyaf, September 11, 2011
Pilipinas Forum 13: On Zero or Minimal Government, October 01, 2011 
Pilipinas Forum 15: Debate on Edsa 2, October 19, 2011
Pilipinas Forum 18: On Minimum Wage Law, November 08, 2011
Pilipinas Forum 19: The CPP-NPA, Sison and Maoism, November 09, 2011 
Pilipinas Forum 21: On Ayn Rand and Keynes, November 29, 2011 
Pilipinas Forum 23: On Debt Repudiation, December 16, 2011
Pilipinas Forum 24: Minimal Government Manifesto, January 16, 2012
Pilipinas Forum 25: On Oilex and Proposed State Monopoly in Oil Trading, February 13, 2012

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