SF38-Editorial: What is class and what is socialist revolution


29/06/2021 by socialistfight

It seems trite to have to point out at the start of this editorial what Marxists understand as class and why the global ruling class fear socialist revolution more than anything else. Despite the global level of workers militancy and strike struggles being the lowest since records began back in the 1890s.

Class, in Marxist understanding, is objectively determined; if you have to sell your labour power to survive you are working class, part of the proletariat. If you own the means of production and exploit the labour of workers for profit you are a capitalist and “profits call the tune” in the global economy, as Michael Roberts points out. Confusion reign on the question of class because in the universities the bourgeois ‘science’ of sociology dominates. Sociology is a bogus science; capitalism’s attempt to replace Marxism with its own ideology. Marx stood Hegel’s idealist dialectics on its feet and asserted the materiality of thought and rejected positivism in favour of critical analysis, understanding that the appearance of “the facts” often hid the essence behind the appearance; a historical materialist understanding of history in its movement and change was necessary to overcome this empirical method.

Portugal, Drugs and class consciousness

In a recent Facebook discussion a meme pointed out that Portugal had legalised all drugs some fourteen years ago and as a consequence addiction fell, overdosing fell, injecting drug use fell by 50% because the money saved on the war on drugs was spent on treatment. Someone asked why every state did not do this. I answered that capitalist governments know that the so-called war on drugs gives them great powers of oppression in the most oppressed sections of society, the black inner city ghettos in the USA and internationally the poorest ghettos in the major cities. And from these places the danger of socialist revolution is by far the greatest. Those sections of the oppressed who have fallen into drug illegality will also be the most dangerous revolutionaries when that possibility appears before them.

And this explanation was questioned by another person: “That’s at a high level Gerry. What fixes the situation is alcohol and pharmaceutical companies who have a lot to lose by decriminalisation lobbying to make sure such a thing cannot happen. In Spain when youth unemployment reached 40% or so, the Spanish government made it legal to grow five weed plants at home, likely designed with a view to curbing youth anger.”

I contend that this is a failure to see the essence behind the appearance and reject the traditional Marxist position that the prime fear of all class conscious capitalism is to prevent revolution, which they understand is a mortal threat to them, since the Russian Revolution in particular. But this requires a revolutionary leadership like the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky which puts the principle of the independence of the working class as the prime principle. No capitulation to the “two completely counter-revolutionary internationals” as Trotsky describes Reformism and Stalinism in all their varieties. Reformism is counter revolutionary because it denies the essence of the necessity of the global nature of capitalist mode of production and the necessity for overthrowing the capitalist state in revolution. Stalinism’s central revision of Marxism is the theory of socialism in a single country and the consequent theory of the popular front with the liberal bourgeoisie which also denies the class independence of the proletariat.

Central to Marxism then is the principle of march separately, strike together as put forward by the revolutionary Comintern. Gerry Downing’s former comrades in the Leninist Trotskyist Tendency sets is out in 1996:

“The lesson to be drawn is clear. In ‘defending’ bourgeois democracy, the working class does not defend the state which oppresses it; nor does it place confidence in the system of capitalist exploitation, whatever its coloration. Where it does have a direct interest is in defending its own democratic rights, which exist within the bourgeois-democratic framework, but which would be immediately threatened by militarist or fascist counter-revolution. Abstentionism on this score will always prove disastrous. Having defeated the main and immediate enemy, it resumes the struggle against the bourgeois republic. Moreover, even in the heat of such ‘defensive’ actions, revolutionaries fight for the political independence of their class, rather than its subordination to bourgeois democracy. The working class must intervene as an independent detachment, prepared to take the struggle beyond the confines the bourgeois democrats seek to place upon it.” [1]

Pedro Castillo and the election in Peru

In Peru we get a look at what would have happened if Jeremy Corbyn had been elected in 2017. Pedro Castillo threw away a 20% lead in the polls by doing what Corbyn and McDonnell did, apologising for their leftism, and only just scraped home, alienating Peru’s ‘Red Wall’ also.

In the Socialist Party’s Marxism Today Jorge Martin has a good article. Look at the grovelling in this Extract to see the similarities:

In an attempt to reassure “the markets”, which were jittery during the count, Castillo’s team issued a statement which is worth quoting at length:

“In an eventual government of Professor Pedro Castillo Terrones, Peru Libre’s presidential candidate, we will respect the autonomy of the Central Reserve Bank, which has done a good job keeping inflation low for more than two decades. We reiterate that we have not considered in our economic plan nationalisations, expropriations, confiscations of savings, exchange controls, price controls or import prohibitions. The popular economy with markets that we advocate promotes the growth of companies and businesses, particularly agriculture and SMEs, in order to generate more jobs and better economic opportunities for all Peruvians. We will maintain an open and broad dialogue with the various sectors of honest businessmen and entrepreneurs, whose role in industrialization and productive development is fundamental. Guaranteeing the right to health and education for all requires improving quality and increasing social spending, which must be based in mining tax reforms to increase collection within the framework of a fiscal sustainability policy, with a gradual reduction of the public deficit and respecting all commitments to pay the Peruvian public debt” (our emphasis).

Castillo himself declared: “I have just had conversations with the national business community that is showing support for the people. We will create a government that is respectful of democracy, of the current Constitution. We will create a government with financial and economic stability.”

A more forthright defence of the capitalist mode of production and the capitalist class itself is hard to imagine.

Carlos Martinez’s defence of China and President Xi

Carlos Martinez has written a defence of China in a series in the Morning Star, Neither Washington nor Beijing? against a threatening attack from western imperialism led by the US. He correctly attacks the third campists from Max Shachtman to Tony Cliff and the Alliance for Workers Liberty for failure to defend China against this new cold war. He considers China still to be a socialist country:

“Seventy years of Chinese socialism, meanwhile, have broken the inverse correlation between wealth and poverty. Even though China suffers from high levels of inequality; even though China has some extremely rich people; life for ordinary workers and peasants has continuously improved, at a remarkable rate and over an extended period”. [2]

Martinez is very anxious to prove nor only that China is socialist but also that it is not imperialist. Hence his attacks on the third campists and his support for the USFI’s Ernest Mandel against the SWP’s state capitalist Tony Cliff. The quote from Martinez above is the first of many passages which gloss over the reality of China today. According to Forbes, World’s billionaires list 2021:

“The number of billionaires on Forbes’ 35th annual list of the world’s wealthiest exploded to an unprecedented 2,755–660 more than a year ago … 210 from China and Hong Kong … Altogether these billionaires are worth $13.1 trillion, up from $8 trillion in 2020. The U.S. still has the most, with 724, followed by China (including Hong Kong and Macao) with 698.”[3]

The Hurun Global Rich List on 2 March 2021 alternatively states:

“China has outpaced the US to become the first country in the world with more than 1,000 billionaires, according to the newly released 2021 Hurun Global Rich List. In total, at the beginning of 2021, China now has 1,058 billionaires with their wealth denominated in US dollar, an increase of 259 billionaires from the number last year.” [4]

So, in contrast to the unashamed capitalist world, which has seen the poor devastated whilst the billionaires ballooned their wealth, the opposite has happened in China, a win-win- situation, Martinez postulates. He makes the case that China’s ashamed capitalist billionaires are not doing very well as imperialists in places, with which we agree, but the problem with his analysis is why it is not imperialist. He puts this down to the good intentions of President Xi and the Communist party bureaucracy, dismisses the obvious objective barriers due to the domination of the world economy by Wall Street and its allied transnational corporations and also dismisses any revolutionary alternative in the following passage:

“If there existed a thriving political movement to the left of the Chinese Communist Party which sought to continue China’s progressive global strategy but to reverse the post-Mao market reforms and transition to a system of worker-run cooperatives (for example), Western leftists would have to assess the relative merits of supporting such a movement in its struggle against the CPC government. But this is sheer fantasy. Opposition to the CPC government in China comes primarily from pro-Western pro-neoliberal elements that seek to undermine socialism and roll back the project of multipolarity.” [5]

The WSWS reporter Lily Zhao told us on January 21 that, “a 47-year-old food delivery worker, Liu, attempted to commit suicide by setting himself on fire with gasoline on the curb side after he was denied the bulk of his wages from November last year.”. He worked for Alibaba, whose owner “Jack Ma holds a wealth of $65.6 billion and is the second richest person in China”. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is worth some $200 billion, however.

“The wage disputes that eventually led to Liu’s suicide attempt originated from an adjustment made to payments for food delivery workers at a number of distribution stations in Taizhou last November” Zhao tells us. Up to then, “a delivery worker was paid 6 RMB or 86 US cents per order. Under the new plan, payment is based on the numbers of orders delivered on a monthly basis starting with a low figure: just 4.5 RMB per order once a worker has reached 600 orders, and 5.2 RMB after 800 orders. A worker has to reach 1,200 orders before being paid 6 RMB per order, and 1,400 orders to receive 6.2 RMB” .

Turns out that socialism with Chinese characteristics is worse than capitalism with capitalist characteristics as practiced by Amazon, Deliveroo and others in the West. “Picking quarrels and provoking troubles” can get you six years jail in China. Food delivery driver Chen Guojiang was charged with this in March. His crime was organising drivers against wage cutting.

 In Saudi Arabia, with whom China has a close and admiring relationship, similar charges like, “suspicious contact with foreign entities”, “recruiting people working in sensitive government positions”, and “providing financial support to hostile entities abroad with the aim of undermining the security and stability of the Kingdom and shaking the country’s social fabric” gets you incarcerated according to Amnesty International.

So, for the Morning Star not only is the prospect of world revolution out of the question, even giving the Chinese working class some democratic rights via workers’ cooperatives is “sheer fantasy”. And the lack of serious opposition is surely down to the extraordinary generosity of billionaires like Xi, whose wealth will surely soon trickle down to couriers like Liu and Chen.


[1] The method of the united front today, In Defence of Marxism, Number 4 (May 1996), The Heritage of the Comintern Transcription/HTML Markup: Sean Robertson for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL). https://wordpress.com/post/socialistfight.com/12164

[2] The original article can be found here: Carlos Martinez, February 21, 2021, China, Neither Washington nor Beijing? https://www.invent-the-future.org/2021/02/neither-washington-nor-beijing/

[3] Forbes, World’s billionaires list 2021, https://www.forbes.com/billionaires/

[4] China has 1,058 billionaires, outpacing the US: Hurun report, Global Times, Mar 02, 2021, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202103/1217047.shtml

[5] Carlos Martinez, Neither Washington nor Beijing?

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with China’s President Xi Jinping at the start of their bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019.

2 thoughts on “SF38-Editorial: What is class and what is socialist revolution

  1. raved says:

    Yes. “Why is [China] not imperialist?”


  2. Why is China not imperialist, a comrade asked. I replied:

    Because the USA via Wall Street and its transnational corporations and subordinate imperialist powers in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia etc dominate the world’s financial markets. The dollar is still the world’s trading and reserve currency. With that its military bases and spending on arms shows the US to be the global hegemonic if declining power. Neither China nor Russia can do what the USA does in sanctioning countries that oppose it, like Russia, China and Iran, for instance, then sanctioning other subordinate imperialist powers for not obeying its instructions to sanction.

    If China appears bold in its own backyard of the South China sea it is because it possesses advanced missiles capable of taking down the aircraft carriers and other warships the US and its allies send up to its coast. Russia also has this technology from China.

    But it cannot fight a war in Africa and Latin America against the USA because it lacks the military capabilities and bases to do so. It has only one overseas base, located in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as against the USA’s 800 odd.
    And it cannot extract the surplus value from its overseas ventures; it is obliged to provide infrastructures and loans on good terms to its clients abroad to circumvent the western imperialist powers’ financial domination via the IMF and World Bank. Although they do exploit their clients abroad in securing raw materials and operating enterprises for profit in exchange for spending on infrastructures etc. But much of their investments abraod include imperialist capital, who benefit from their overseas ventures also.

    Not that they have no imperialist ambitions. They would like to become one like USA and are working on it. But unless and until the USA suffers a major economic catastrophe resulting in the dollar’s eclipse and loss of foreign bases etc. China and Russia cannot become new Imperialist powers in Marxist terms to rival and/or replace the USA.

    They would need allies in Europe for that and various indications of recent times show some at least in Europe, Germany, France and Italy, for instance, would embrace that if the USA begins seriously to fall economically and consequently militarily. It’s galling for them to be humiliated again and again by the USA.


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