Bhattarai’s “New Type of State” and the Maoist Re-envisioning of Communism
Posted by Mike E on July 2, 2009
How should future socialist revolutions avoid capitalist restoration? How can communists deepen the involvement of the people in decisionmaking? How we do better, building on the experience of socialism in the 20th century?
Baburam Bhattarai is a celebrated intellectual figure in Nepal and a top leader within the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [UCPN(M)]. After years underground in a rapidly growing guerilla uprising, that revolutionary organization now may stand on the threshold of completing this century’s first socialist revolution. For that reason alone, the ideas of this distinctly non-dogmatic communist movement are of interest around the world.
The following essay discusses and defends a particularly controversial analysis made by Bhattarai in 2004 — it is called “The Question of Building a New Type of State” and is available online here on the Kasama sites. It was originally published in The Worker, organ of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, #9, February 2004.
It is, as you will see an argument for a new relationship between popular democracy and radical socialist revolution within this 21st century.
Such new Nepali Maoist theories and proposals on democracy and communist history have been the target of sharp criticisms — often centering on their approach to the state apparatus as a historical institution. Those criticisms featured prominently in open letters written by the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States, and more recently by the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
Rosa L. Blanc, the author of the following piece, is a participant in our Kasama discussions — though, as usual, the Kasama Project itself does not formally endorse the particular analysis contained.
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Bhattarai’s “New Type of State”
and the Nepalese Maoist Re-envisioning of Communism in the 21st Century
by Rosa L. Blanc
Baburam Bhattarai’s article entitled “The Question of Building a New Type of State” is at the center of many polemics today and has been the object of attack in the recent critique of the RCP to the Nepalese Maoists.
“Alarmed by the positions put forward in the ‘New State” article,” the following is how Revolutionary Communist Party,USA describes Bhattarai’s intervention:
1-“have loudly proclaimed loyalty to ‘democracy’—meaning Western-style bourgeois democracy,”
2-“expressed a negative verdict on the whole first wave of proletarian revolution,”
3-“advanced a series of arguments about democracy and dictatorship and how they related to the struggle in Nepal that,” the RCP argued, “would, if followed, lead to not establishing a proletarian dictatorship or to abandoning it if it were established.”
4-“basically placed the extension of formal democracy (including elections with competing political parties) at the heart of the socialist transition and as some kind of supposed “guarantee” for the prevention of capitalist restoration”
5-“proposed that upon reaching socialism the standing army could be dissolved and replaced by militias,”
6-“the model of the Paris Commune, with direct elections and recall of officials, was raised as a more positive model than the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and China.”
7-“argues that Nepal must first develop the productive forces before the revolution can advance further, and that only capitalism can achieve this… some compare him to China’s Deng Xiaoping.”
(From the RCP long essay in Revolution 160, March 29, 2009 entitled “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 “)]
Given the distortions and misrepresentations of Bhattarai’s article in these current debates, I feel the need to summarize its main ideas so that people can judge for themselves. I want to contrast the way RCP summarizes this article with what the article really said.
I am not going to develop my own critique to this article here. Instead I hope to bring the basic elements and ideas of Bhattarai’s article back into the public discussion – many of which have been ignored and distorted by RCP. And I would like to help open a serious discussion on the main proposals by Bhattarai and Nepalese Maoist on the re-envisioning of communism in the 21st century.
Before I summarize Bhattarai’s article, I would like to say that many of the ideas in his article were first vetted during a group discussion at the National Convention of the United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC) of Nepal held in September 2001. During this National Convention, Bhattarai presented a draft report of entitled “Common Minimum Policy and Programme of United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC)” while Dev Gurung presented a draft of the URPC constitution.
The group discussion of Bhattarai’s draft report centered on:
“…how it was more difficult to fight against counter-revolution than making revolution. Referring to the loss of once well established socialist states in the world, particularly those in China and Russia, it was opined that the challenge today lies in creating a 21st century state which will not only consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat but at the same time it will have elements of pave way for the withering away of the state. Today, the starting point of any attempt to create a new state should begin with incorporating the spirit of the GPCR [Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution], at the same time one must go beyond it so as to pursue a continuous revolution. Discussion was also centered on the dialectical relation between the Party and the people’s government and correct method of ensuring continued proletarian leadership over the government. After intense discussion the draft report and the constitution were unanimously passed with some amendments” (“National Convention of the United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC),” THE WORKER No. 7, January 2002: 9-10).
Moreover, in the Second National Conference of CPN (Maoist) of February 2001 the Nepali Maoist leader Prachanda presented a historic document approved by the conference entitled “The Great Leap Forward: An Inevitable Need of History” (The Worker, No. 7, January 2002: 26-63). This long document is an important summary of CPN-Maoist’s understanding and evaluation of the problems of the international communist movement in the 20th century and constitute an important antecedent to Bhattarai’s article on “The Question of Building a New Type of State.”
Anyone interested in understanding the Nepalese Maoist perspective, should take a close look at all of these documents.
I mention this because it is sometimes implied or openly stated that Bhattarai’s “New Type of State” is a deviation from the previous line of the UCPN(Maoist). In fact, these two antecedents were publicly known but ignored by the RCP. This way they could focus primarily on the 2004 article by Bhattarai and make claims about deviation. In fact, Bhattarai’s article is a continuation of UCPN-Maoist previous documents, resolutions and discussions.
Bhattarai’s article develops a discussion at two levels:
One level is the international historical experience of the communist movement in the 20th century and its lessons for re-envisioning communism in the 21st century.
The other level is the national context of Nepal.
What Bhattarai says about the lessons and re-envisioning of communism and his strategic proposal for a re-foundation of communist theory and practice is a powerful intervention into matters that are fundamental for communists. In the current debate, Bhattarai’s position is profoundly distorted by the RCP when they collapse what Bhattarai proposes for the strategic goals and re-envisioning of Communism in the 21st century into his tactical proposals made within the national context of Nepal. Although RCP insist that they are criticizing neither tactics nor negotiations (per se), what they really do is to criticize the specific short-term tactics while implying they are intrinsic to the CPN-Maoist’s strategic line.
In his article Bhattarai reveals that the need for a transitional state which is a step below the New Democratic/People’s Democratic state “has been provided in the ‘An Executive Summary of the Proposal Put Forward by CPN (Maoist) for the Negotiations’ [See, CPN (Maoist) 2004] proposed by the Party during the latest round of negotiations on April 27, 2003.” He continues,
“The Party believes that the concept of such a transitional state rising above the bourgeois parliamentarism but not yet reaching the level of New Democracy is appropriate both theoretically and practically in the concrete conditions of Nepal.”
I am not going to focus this article on the validity of this tactical move in the context of Nepal. This has been done in a more intelligent and informative way by Nepalese Maoist themselves (see for example the intervention by Nepalese Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel, known as Gaurav, at University of London on November 11, 2007: https://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/gaurav-the-revolution-in-nepal/).
What I would like to focus in this articles is on Bhattarai’s critical evaluation of the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 20th century, its lessons and his re-envisioning of communism for the 21st century — in other words, how to make socialist revolution better next time. This is the aspect of Bhattarai’s contribution that gets absolutely distorted and ignored in RCP critique of Bhattarai’s article. Why? Is it because it proposes a different approach and conception from RCP’s chairman Bob Avakian’s so-called “New Synthesis”?
Bhattarai’s essay starts by emphasizing that the question of state power is the central question of New Democratic revolution in Nepal in late 2004. Bhattarai explores two contradictions in developing his argument:
1) One is the contradiction between the international context and the national conditions for state power in Nepal; and
2) the other is the contradiction between universal communist principles and their application within the particularities of the struggle in Nepal.
These two contradictions (international vs. national and universal vs. particular) are interrelated and yet distinct. It would be a mistake to conflate or collapse one into the other.
Thus, in the relation between the universal and the particular, the international context is not equivalent to the universal principles and the national context is not equivalent to the particular application of those principles. Both the international and the national context form part of both the application of universal principles to a particular situation. The international and the national are the contexts that form the particular context where universal principles are applied.
The articulation of these two levels does not have easy solutions. If it is true that the universal principles provides general guiding lines, those principles cannot be mechanically applied, but need to take into account the very particular conditions (both international and national) of the country. The international context and the national context provides the concrete space for the application of universal principles in order to apply them to a particular situation.
Although formally speaking almost everybody in the international Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (MLM) movement agrees with the formulation that universal principles has to be applied to particular conditions and that you cannot collapse one into the other in a mechanical way, there are disagreements in how to interpret this formulation.
For right wing revisionist, the particular is so particular that universal principles never apply to concrete situations justifying the elimination of principles in ways that foster class conciliation, reformism and, thus, give lip service to principles or make them irrelevant. Meanwhile for dogmato-revisionist trends, universal principles apply to all concrete situations without exception in a one-to-one direct correspondence between the abstract principles and the concrete situation. Principles apply without a nuanced understanding of concrete historical conditions. A dialectical understanding of this question is fundamental here. There is a fine line to transit between the dogmatic-revisionist danger of abstract affirmation of principles with no consideration of particularities and the revisionist danger of exaggerated affirmation of particularities throwing away principles.
Strategy and tactics are always informed by the principles that guide the immediate and ultimate goals of the revolution and the particularities of the local and international historical conditions and relations of forces within which a revolution is situated.
Bhattarai starts the essay making three statements. First, he affirms one universal principle :
“[T]he proletarian (i.e. New Democratic or Socialist) state power is of a ‘new type’ as compared to all the state powers of minority exploiter classes in history.”
This principle implies that the proletarian state cannot have the same form and content as the states of the exploiter classes before (including all exploiter classes in history).
This universal principle is followed by a second statement that is of a different order:
“[A]fter the downfall of all People’s Democratic or Socialist state powers including those in Russia, China and others in the past, the proletarian state powers arising in a new setting in the 21st century have to be of a further newer type.”
This statement implies an orientation within a new international historical particularity: The defeat of the People’s Democratic and Socialist states in China, Soviet Union and other places, the restoration of capitalism in the formerly socialist states of the 20th century, now requires a further development of the universal principle of a new type of state.
The third statement is about the particular national context of the struggle:
“In the concrete semi-feudal and semi-colonial national context of Nepal, where even the old bourgeois revolution and state has not been accomplished, the prospective proletarian state would naturally be, and have to be, of a ‘new’ type.”
These three statements are going to organize the rest of the article. The first part of the article is a discussion of the question of state power in the international communist movement. The following is a group of theoretical universal principles that Bhattarai raises about the MLM understanding of the state based on a historical materialist analysis as opposed to the three evils such of “anarchist, revisionist and dogmato-revisionist views, which may also be called petty-bourgeois, bourgeois and bureaucratic bourgeois views on the state.”
The state is:
– A dictatorship of one class over the others
– The centre of class struggle in every historical stage where every victorious class has further sharpened and strengthened this weapon of the state according to its class interest
– Although initially born as ‘servant’ of the society, gradually separated itself from the society and took the form of ‘master’ of the society
– By the time the state reached the ‘highest’ and ‘ultimate’ stage of the bourgeois republic it became terrible parasitic machinery over the society armed with a huge bureaucracy and standing army
-Similar to the law of dialectics that requires everything that is born to meet with its death, the state is also inevitably destined to die someday
– The concept of building a new type of transitional state in lieu of the bourgeois state, whose essence would be the dictatorship of the proletariat.
After raising the above principles, Bhattarai defends the critique that Marx and Engels made of the anarchist concept of the state and he supports the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a new form of state for the long transitional period between capitalist and communist society. The need of the dictatorship of the proletariat arises from the need to exercise dictatorship over the capitalist class and the need to overcome the unsolved contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not only the state of a transition — but a transitional state as well.
Bhattarai emphasizes that,
“Engels had further expounded that after the displacement of the state of the minority exploiter classes by the social revolution of the conscious masses the majority exploited classes should establish a ‘transitional’ state to apply dictatorship over the defeated exploiter classes and to move towards a classless society, and such a state would be ‘no longer a state in the proper sense of the word’.”
The Paris commune was for Engels the example of such a state. It was created through a social revolution that defeated the bourgeois state. The new type of state established by the commune was characterized by the following:
a) Direct election by the workers’ universal suffrage of the commune’s officials
responsible and revocable at short terms with public service done at workmen’s wages,
b) directly defended by the armed masses after the dissolution of the standing army
c) and equipped with all the executive and legislature powers.
This new type of state known as the Paris Commune was upheld by Marx and Engels as the most shining example of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Bhattarai goes on to say that Marx’s expression, that “this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to… a classless society” clearly asserts that the new type of state (in the form of dictatorship of the proletariat) is not a state “in the proper sense of the word” and is a means to do away with all the classes and state. Then he passes on to discuss the contributions of Lenin in the eve of the October Revolution:
1-Using Marx’s expression the proletariat must “smash” the ready-made machine and replace it by a new one that will merge the police, army and bureaucracy with the “entire armed people,”
2-the “entire armed people” composed of the exploited section of the population lead by the proletariat should take directly into their own hand the organs of state power in order that they themselves should constitute a new type of state,
3- this new type of state in the Russian context was identified as the Soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants.
Bhattarai cites Lenin’s:
“…I advocate not the usual parliamentary bourgeois state, but a state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people.” (Lenin 1917c: 49)
After this clear Leninist orientation, Bhattarai denounces right wing revisionism:
“However, Kautsky and other Right revisionists of the Second International had sought to discard the very class concept of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat and to spread the illusion of bourgeois parliamentarism in the form of so-called “pure democracy” within the proletarian movement, against which Lenin had launched a severe polemics. In his famous work “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky” (1918), Lenin had amply clarified that in a class divided society ‘democracy’, too, would have a class character and bourgeois democracy and constituent assembly were mere concrete forms of bourgeois state.”
This long quote of Bhattarai’s article is crucial to keep in mind given the kind of accusations raised recently by the RCP.
Bhattarai positively mentions and upholds the Bolsheviks’ strategy after the October Revolution of dissolving the bourgeois representative organ, the Constituent Assembly, in order to replace it with a more democratic and revolutionary structure such as the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of the Soviets:
“Thus, an extensive network of local to central Soviets of workers, peasants, soldiers and other revolutionary classes developed in the model of the Paris Commune was the practical expression of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and a new type of socialist state after the October revolution. When there arose a contradiction between the bourgeois representative organ, the constituent assembly, and the socialist representative organ, the Soviet, immediately after the revolution, the constituent assembly was dissolved as a historically retrograde organ, and the forward-looking Soviet democracy was institutionalized. Even when a vicious imperialist aggression and internal civic war ensued in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the congress and meetings of the elected Soviets were held in short and regular intervals and all-important decisions of the state were taken through the Soviets.”
According to Bhattarai, the civil war against the Soviet power had long lasting negative consequences for the proletariat Soviet state power. This is a crucial historical point in order to understand the spirit of the rest of Bhattarai’s article calling to further develop the concept of a new type of state under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is how Bhattarai is going to characterize the tragic consequences of the 1917-1921 civil war in Russia:
“However, when the civil war got stretched and a ‘New Economic Policy’ (NEP) with features of state-capitalism was introduced to tide over the problems of the economic construction after the end of the civil war, there was gradual erosion in the dynamism and liveliness of the initial Soviet system. The higher-level executive committees started getting more active and powerful at the cost of the Soviet Congress and local organs. The organs of the state, Party and army (which was getting transformed into a standing army from the initial ‘Red Guards’) were getting intertwined inseparably. A bureaucratic apparatus in the old Czarist mould, cut-off from and placed over the people, started rising up gradually. Similar other bureaucratic deviations were cropping up menacingly in the new Soviet state system. As Lenin was a rare genius of revolutionary firmness and dynamism and a past master in applying revolutionary science in the concrete time and place, he made concerted efforts till the end to curb the rising bureaucratic tendencies in the Soviet state system and to ensure the initiative, supervision and participation of the revolutionary masses in the new state power through ‘Worker’s and Peasants Inspection’, ‘non-Party Worker’s and Peasant’s Conferences’, etc.”
Bhattarai goes on to cite Lenin’s deep concern with the rising problem of bureaucratization at the end of his life:
“Let us hope that our new Worker’s and Peasants’ Inspection will abandon what the French call pruderies, which we may call ridiculous primness, or ridiculous swank, and which plays entirely into the hands of our Soviet and Party bureaucracy. Let it be said in parentheses that we have bureaucrats in our Party offices as well as in Soviet offices.” (Lenin 1923:419)
This wishful thinking of Lenin, according to Bhattarai, is not going to be fulfilled. He states that Stalin’s mechanical thinking basically strengthened the bureaucratic tendencies. This is what Bhattarai says:
“After Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin made efforts to continue and develop the Soviet state in a socialist direction. However, firstly due to a type of economic deterministic thinking that envisaged the development of the productive forces per se would lead the society towards communism, a one-sided stress was laid on economic development through central planning. Secondly, in the particularity of heightened contradictions with imperialism in and around the World War II, the ‘external’ cause was accorded primacy and the policy of applying force of state power to settle internal contradictions within the state and the Party was followed. Consequently, by the time of Stalin’s death in 1953 the Soviet state was caught in a vicious bureaucratic quagmire, and with Khrushchev’s advent it assumed an open bureaucratic capitalist and totalitarian character, which was ultimately transformed into naked capitalism in 1989.”
Bhattarai states that out of a serious study of this tragic experience, the communist leader Mao Zedong in the 1950s and 60s derived the grave lessons and “developed the theory of the continuous revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, or the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR).” Bhattarai emphasizes that:
“…after the [Chinese] revolution when there was the danger of the people’s democratic dictatorship (till 1956) and the dictatorship of the proletariat (1956 onwards) undergoing bureaucratization and degenerating into bourgeois dictatorship, Mao searched for new methods to ensure supervision and participation of the masses in the state and to correctly handle contradictions prevalent in society… The method of ensuring maximum and continuous participation of the masses in the state through the practice of ‘great democracy’ under the leadership of the proletariat, is the question of utmost importance in checking bureaucratic deviations and building a new type of state, which is reflected in Mao’s assertion: ‘We must have this much confidence. We are not even afraid of imperialism, so why should we be afraid of great democracy? Why should we be afraid of students taking to the streets? Yet among our Party members there are some who are afraid of great democracy, and this is not good. Those bureaucrats who are afraid of great democracy must study Marxism hard and mend their ways.'” (Mao 1977:347)
Despite RCP accusations, Bhattarai upholds Mao’s contributions during the 10 years of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) such as when he said:
“…widespread slogans of ‘It is right to rebel,’ ‘Bombard the bourgeois headquarter’ etc; revolutionary committees made up of non-Party masses to conduct state functions in the model of Paris Commune; formation Red Guards in millions through the arming of the masses; inclusion of the rights of workers to strike in the state constitution; etc.”
Despite the acknowledgement of the contributions of Mao, “the incidence of counterrevolution from within the existing state and restoration of bourgeois dictatorship in China after Mao’s death” raises our responsibilities today for the further development and formation of a new type of state. For Bhattarai this means that “we should move further ahead after drawing positive and negative lessons of practices of dictatorship of the proletariat from the Paris Commune through the Russian Soviet to the Chinese GPCR.” This is a call for a thorough scientific study of these three experiences. For Bhattarai this is a priority of the communist movement today. Its importance is summarized in the following statement:
“It is obvious that as long as the era of imperialism prevails and there is the compulsion of building socialism within a single country, nobody can and should objectively deny the possibility of counter-revolution after a revolution. Even then, if we can’t provided scientific and logical answer to the subjective factors behind the relatively easy and more or less ‘peaceful’ occurrence of counter-revolution and restoration of bourgeois dictatorship in nearly half of the world that had dozens of socialist and people’s democratic state systems in the twentieth century, we won’t be able to win the confidence of the masses to accomplish revolution and defend and develop the same up to communism. In this sense it is imperative to firmly grasp that the question of building a new type of state in the twenty-first century means the building of the state that would prevent counter-revolution after revolution and would lead to communism through a continuous revolution; or it is a state that would bring about its own end as a state… On Lenin’s death and during the period of Third International and Stalin, though there was mechanistic stress on the ‘necessity’ of dictatorship of the proletariat from a dogmato-revisionist angle, the question of continuous revolution and withering away of the state was put in the back burner and consequently the dictatorship of the proletariat itself got distorted and ultimately degenerated into bureaucratic bourgeois dictatorship or totalitarianism. It was only during the period of Mao that both the revisionist and dogmato-revisionist tendencies were attacked and a balanced stress was placed on both the questions of dictatorship of the proletariat and of ‘continuous revolution’ and withering away of the state. As Mao’s efforts during the short period were grossly inadequate and incomplete, the revolutionaries of the present age should dare go beyond all the past experiences and build a new type of state power while firmly grasping the question of dictatorship of the proletariat and continuous revolution. “
This paragraph not only sums up the main content of the Nepalese Maoist insistence on bringing forward a new vision for 21st century communist revolutions, but it formulates the challenges of our times after the defeat of all existing dictatorships of the proletariat in the 20th century by counter-revolutionary capitalist forces inside the communist party and the state in socialist societies.
There is no way communist forces are going to win back masses of people world-wide to the communist project without a scientific study of the experiences of the 20th century and further development of the new type of state, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in a more democratic proletarian direction.
Given that this text was written before there was any public talk about a “new synthesis” in the RCP or anywhere else, it is the first major statement by a leader of a MLM party to attempt at doing precisely that: the road towards a new synthesis. We have to see this article by Bhattarai as a major contribution and invitation to envision a new communist project for the 21st century in order to do it better next time.
Re-envisioning Communism in the 21st Century
In the rest of the article, Bhattarai continues to develop his proposal towards a new synthesis by continuing to raise the important questions involved on building a new type of state based on the 20th century experience that led to the revisionist coup in Russia and China. The following are the points he raises:
A. The Question of Smashing the Old State
One of the principles of MLM is what Bhattarai sums as:
“One basic precondition for building a new type of state is the complete smashing of the old state. The more completely and deeply the old state is smashed, the better would be the probability of building a more stable and complete new state. This is the objective law verified by historical experience and facts.”
He mentions this universal principle to argue about the impossibility of building a new type of state through general reforms and to defend the scientific socialist constant insistent of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the question of “smashing the old state.” The greater the intensity of the destruction of the old state, the greater the stability of the construction of the new type of state.
B. The Question of Class Dictatorship and Proletarian Leadership
Here Bhattarai states that the most important question of the new type of state is its class dictatorship and it proletarian leadership. He criticizes the “revisionists” who discarded the notion of dictatorship of the proletariat.
Since every state has a class character there is no such thing as a the ‘free people’s state’ defended by the anarchist nor a ‘state of the whole people’ as defended by the revisionist. However, Bhattarai mentions here Marx and Engels statements on exceptional situations also stated by Lenin in State and Revolution:
“As an exception in special situations of two struggling classes being in the position of a stalemate, Marx and Engels have talked of the state temporarily assuming a non-class and neutral status and have put forward the examples of the initial stages of the rules of Napoleon Bonaparte (1798-1815) and Louis Bonaparte (1848-1871) in France. (See, Marx 1871 and Engels 1884). However, there should not be any iota of doubt among the revolutionaries that these exceptional conditions are temporary and that the historical rule is for the state to ultimately assume the form of dictatorship of one or the other class. Hence, while building a new state the revolutionaries should first of all determine with utmost gravity and clarity which class dictatorship it is and against which class this dictatorship is applied. In a semi-feudal and semi-colonial multi-class society like ours, it should be firmly grasped that at the initial stage the new state would be a joint democratic dictatorship of all anti-feudal and anti-imperialist classes, or all the progressive classes from the proletariat through the peasantry to the national bourgeoisie except the feudal and comprador and bureaucratic bourgeoisie. After the completion of the bourgeoisie democratic revolution and transition to socialism the state’s character would be the dictatorship of the proletariat and all types of dictatorship would whither away only in communism.”
This is a nuanced and subtle position.
Bhattarai is not arguing that there can be no exceptions to the universal principle that all states response to the interest to a dominant class that exercises a dictatorship over the opposite classes. Following Marx and Engels, he acknowledges moments when the class character of the state is temporarily assuming a contested status.
However, this is only temporarily at moments when two struggling classes are in a position of stalemate. The historical rule is the opposite. Every state has a class character and exercises the dictatorship of one class over others. Here the dialectic between dictatorship and democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat is discussed by Bhattarai citing Mao:
“Dictatorship does not apply within the ranks of the people. The people cannot exercise dictatorship over themselves, nor must one section of the people oppress another. Law-breakers among the people will be punished according to law, but this is different in principle from the exercise of dictatorship to suppress enemies of the people. What applies among the people is democratic centralism.” (Mao 1957:387)
The dictatorship of the proletariat should follow the principle of exercising dictatorship against the reactionary classes and “democratic centralism” among the non-antagonistic classes. This principle is applied in different forms depending if it entails the struggle of New Democracy or if it is a Socialist Revolution. The reactionary classes and non-antagonistic classes are defined differently according to the character of the revolution. With the advance of information technology and its increased role as propaganda war, Bhattarai insists that under the new type of state more attention should be pay to the use of cultural and ideological weapons to maintain its dictatorship.
He cites Gramsci about the importance reactionary classes give to ruling by consent of the people through cultural and ideological means apart from the use of military force. The following is a long quote from Bhattarai’s article that merits to be read and discussed by the international communist movement because of its implications for the re-envisioning a new course for socialism in the 21st century:
“Whereas the bourgeoisie has been very craftily practicing its dictatorship under a parliamentary ‘democratic’ cover and in the name of the ‘whole people’, there has been a long debate in the international communist movement about the form of proletarian dictatorship and the practical method of assuming proletarian leadership over the state. In view of the serious setbacks received by the models of proletarian dictatorship practiced in Russia, China and elsewhere in the twentieth century, the present day revolutionaries should draw appropriate lessons from these experiences and dare experiment and develop new models. After the experiences of the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviets a general understanding was developed that the proletariat should exercise its leadership through the Communist Party organized as its vanguard and the dictatorship should be applied through the Soviets or People’s Councils modeled after the Paris Commune. Giving a concrete expression to this, Lenin in 1920 had said:
‘…the dictatorship is exercised by the proletariat organized in the Soviets; the proletariat is guided by the Communist Party…..’ (Marx-Engels-Lenin 1984:473)
Similarly, Mao had formulated the method of people’s democratic dictatorship a nd proletarian leadership this way:
‘…People’s democratic dictatorship under the leadership of the proletariat (through the Communist Party) and based on workers and peasants unity.’ (Mao 1948)
After the October Revolution Lenin had time and again stressed that dictatorship of the proletariat should be applied through the Soviets. However, his expression while addressing the Third Congress of the Comintern in 1921 that ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat would not work except through the Communist Party’ was later taken mechanistically rather than in a general sense. As a result grave errors were committed everywhere to virtually erase all differences between a Communist Party and a socialist state. The present day revolutionaries should definitely dare correct them. In the light of the bitter experiences of gradual erosion of the distinction between the Party and representative institutions, the gradual conversion of the Communist Party itself into a bureaucratic bourgeois Party and the Party’s claim of the leadership of the state as a monopoly, we should develop a correct and new method to apply class dictatorship and to exercise proletarian leadership over the state. We should firmly grasp that the dictatorship is not that of a Party or a person but that of the class, and the proletarian leadership is not to be claimed as a monopoly but is to be won over through revolutionary practice and to be applied democratically. We must end at the earliest such paradoxical situation that the bourgeois dictatorship with a reactionary essence has been able to mislead the masses by presenting itself in an attractive form but the people’s democratic or proletarian dictatorship with a revolutionary content has had an ugly external form and been discarded by the masses. For this, first of all, it should be established in practice that the Communist Party does not receive the leadership right as a ‘monopoly’ but gets it because of its proletarian revolutionary character, and an institutional mechanism should be ensured for the class and the masses to reject and abandon a Party that has lost its proletarian character. Similarly, it should be firmly grasped and implemented in practice that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not the dictatorship of the Party or its higher leadership but a class dictatorship applied through the elected representative organs (i.e. the Soviets or the People’s Council) of the masses. Even though the ‘content’ of the dictatorship is principal, the dialectical principle that if the ‘form’ is not correct it will ultimately hamper upon the ‘content’ should be correctly grasped and implemented. The future of building a new type of state principally rests on this cardinal question.”
This long paragraph is one of the most important contributions of Bhattarai’s article:
“The dictatorship of the proletariat is not that of a Party or a person but that of the class.”
He criticizes the way Lenin’s point about “the dictatorship of the proletariat would not work except through the Communist Party” was later mechanically applied and dogmatically understood after his death.
The consequences were grave errors that virtually erased all differences between a Communist Party and a socialist state. Moreover, the distinction between the party leadership and the proletarian state was not only fuzzy but erased in favor of the dictatorship of the party. With the weakening of the Soviet structure after the Russian Civil War (1917-1923), the party replaced the Soviets (workers councils) as the center of decision-making.
After the civil war, the Soviets as the commune-like structure of decision-making for the dictatorship of the proletariat was never reinstalled and instead the system of Soviets basically became a transmission belt for the decisions made by the party and, mainly, the party’s leadership. The party instrumentalized and replaced the Soviets by monopolizing state power. This created the bureaucratic separation between officials and the masses as well as between the army and the people during the Stalinist era that contributed to the degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the party, and helped lay the basis for the restoration of capitalism, i.e. the dictatorship of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie.
The latter contradicted Marx’s, Engels’ and Lenin’s idea to create a new type of state that would break with the historical separation between the army and the people, officials and the masses that characterizes all exploiters’ state in the past. Lenin’s concept of a “state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people” was betrayed.
The inability of the Bolsheviks to reinstall the autonomy of power of the Soviets as the new type of state created the seed for the degeneration of the Communist party into a new bureaucratic state bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the state capitalist.
There are several historical studies of this period that are worth to examine and that coincides with Bhattarai’s verdict about the increased separation of the officials and the party from the masses. One of them is the four volume work by Charles Bettelheim on Class Struggle in the Soviet Union. The first volume covered the 1917-1924 period while the third volume covers the 1924-1930 period. The third and fourth volume are less known and less read. They cover the period of 1930 to 1940 and argue that the restoration of capitalism was not a post-1956 problem, but right in the 1930s. This, however, is not Bhattarai’s thesis.
Instead, Bhattarai talks about Stalin’s mechanical thinking contributing to the decisive restoration of capitalism later in the mid-1950s under the leadership of Nikita Kruschov. But the degeneration that he talks about in terms of the separation of the state from the masses is well documented in the work of Charles Bettleheim and E. H. Carr.
Bhattarai insist that in light of this restoration of bureaucratic state capitalism, we should develop new methods for class dictatorship and proletarian leadership over the state. These new methods should begin from two assumptions not to be reproduced again in the 21st century:
1) that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not that of a Party or a person but that of the class.
2) the proletarian leadership is not to be claimed as a monopoly but is to be won over through revolutionary practice and to be applied democratically
To claim that proletarian leadership is not the exercise of a political monopoly but is to be won over democratically and through revolutionary struggle does not mean that the proletarian state itself is up for election.
It means that the leadership has to be exercised in a way that decisions are not imposed due a state monopoly in decisions of the party — to the exclusion of the workers (and the people more generally). Decisions are debated and won in ideological struggle. One of the main mechanisms of revisionist “bourgeoisification” of the party was the fact that it was never challenged because of its monopoly in decision-making. This lead to the practice of preaching ideas to people about decisions already made rather than creating open public ideological debates and revolutionary struggles in a more lively, dynamic and extensive society to win people over to ideas to be democratically decided.
Bhattarai calls for an end to the paradoxical situation where a reactionary class dictatorship such as the capitalist state can deceive the masses by presenting itself in a democratic form, while a proletarian dictatorship with a revolutionary content has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the masses by an ugly external form that led to a degeneration in the class content. The Cultural Revolution was precisely Mao’s response to this problem.
C. The Question of Democracy
Bhattarai starts this section by the following principle statement:
“The main essence of the new type of state is dictatorship over the reactionary classes and democracy for the majority of the progressive and patriotic masses. Hence there is a complex dialectical interrelation between applying dictatorship over one particular section of society and availing democracy to the other section. Only in the process of articulating this interrelation that it is possible to build a new type of state. If one attempts to divorce democracy and dictatorship from each other or to merge them both into one, then there occur serious problems and accidents. This has been proved by the bitter experiences of building new type of state in the past century. Democracy and dictatorship are two sides of the same coin. In a class divided society democracy for one class is dictatorship against another class and dictatorship over one class is a democracy for another class. Hence in the new proletarian state to apply dictatorship over the handful of exploiting classes is to provide democracy for the overwhelming masses, and to expand the scope of democracy for the masses is to tighten the noose of dictatorship over the reactionary classes. In this sense democracy is also a form of state and as soon as the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes unnecessary democracy, too, becomes unnecessary or withers away. Hence the revolutionaries should be freed of the hypocritical illusion of absolute democracy or ‘democracy for all’ as spread by the bourgeois.”
Here it becomes very clear that Bhattarai is calling to institutionally further develop the dialectical relation between democracy and dictatorship under the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 21st century and that he is not defending here the revisionist bourgeois notion of a “state for all people” or “democracy for all.”
He states that in the past socialist experience of the 20th century, the relation between the two aspects of the dictatorship of the proletariat has been problematic in two ways:
a) by merging democracy with dictatorship- This is the dogmatic-revisionist deviation under Stalin where the collapse of democracy and dictatorship or the reduction of democracy to dictatorship resulted in the elimination of proletarian democracy and the development of the dictatorship aspects of proletarian dictatorship that led to bureaucratization and state capitalism.
b) by the divorce or separation of dictatorship and democracy- This is the right wing revisionist deviation where the idea of “democracy for all” is opposed in a dualistic way to the exercise of dictatorship leading to the revisionist conciliation with the bourgeoisie.
For Bhattarai, democracy and dictatorship are two sides of the same coin. They go together in dialectical and complex ways. You cannot merge nor separate them. The dictatorship towards one class is the democracy towards another class. If this is the case: Why in the experience of the 20th century more emphasis was put on the dictatorship aspects of the dictatorship of the proletariat and no importance was put on the aspect of proletarian democracy?
According to Bhattarai, the exception to this was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China (GPCR 1966-1976). So, he calls for taking the best of the GPCR experience and moving beyond in developing the democratic aspects of the dictatorship of the proletariat to face a fundamental problem:
“An institutional mechanism should be ensured for the class and the masses to reject and abandon a Party that has lost its proletarian character.”
When the party goes wrong and there is no institutionalized proletarian democratic mechanism to confront it, then the masses are at vulnerable to the revisionist coup. Here is where Bhattarai’s proposal for a multi-party democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat (not under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie) emerge. Bhattarai explains this as follows:
“…as practiced during the GPCR, such methods like guaranteeing the freedom of expression, press, strike etc. for the masses, public criticism of and mass action against persons in high authority of Party and state, etc. should be institutionalized. Also, drawing correct lessons from the bitter experiences of failure of the masses to stage organized rebellion against counter-revolution in the past, we should ensure a system in the new context whereby political parties may be allowed to get organized keeping within definite progressive and revolutionary constitutional limits and they may be encouraged to function not only in a ‘cooperative’ manner but in a ‘competitive’ spirit vis-à-vis the formal Communist Party. There can be no objective and logical reason for the Communist Party claiming itself to be the representative of the majority proletarian and oppressed classes to hesitate to enter into political competition within a definite constitutional framework, once the economic monopoly of the feudal and bourgeois classes over land and capital and military monopoly over the mercenary professional army, which are the sources of their political hegemony, are thoroughly smashed. One should earnestly acknowledge that this is not an advocacy of bourgeois pluralism but is a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist method to objectively solve contradictions among the people as long as the class division in society exists. Though it could not be practiced for various reasons in the past, the fact that Mao himself was contemplating in that direction can be deduced from his following statement: ‘Which is better, to have just party or several? As we see it now, it’s perhaps better to have several parties. This has been true in the past and may well be so for the future; it means long-term coexistence and mutual supervision.’ (Mao 1956: 296). Whatever it may be, we should be prudent and daring enough to develop proletarian democracy or people’s democracy as per the new needs of the twenty-first century. This is the rationale of the new decision of our Party, under the leadership of Chairman Com. Prachanda, in relation to the development of democracy.”
This proposal is not saying that with a multi-party system the proletarian dictatorship is up for election. It is saying that political parties can be allowed to get organized only within “definite progressive” and “revolutionary constitutional limits.” If the class nature of the bourgeois state does not change with the change in administration every four years through bourgeois democratic elections, the character of the proletarian state need not be at stake with proletarian democratic elections with parties different from the communist party as long as they respect the constitutional and institutional limits of the proletarian state. Parties that run in the elections would have to respect these limits. If not, dictatorship will be exercise against them. This means that the top leadership of the state in crucial positions such as in the popular army or in other strategic state positions will have to continue in the hands of the Communist party leadership. However, they could also be up for election too as long as they are candidates from the Communist party and show a commitment to defend the proletarian state and improve the processes towards a classless society.
The importance of this proposal is that it offers a way of doing it better in the 21st century by providing an institutional framework that can allow the masses to organize political parties and organizations independently from the Communist Party to challenge it when it goes wrong. So, Bhattarai’s proposal to allow the masses to organize separate parties and organizations within certain constitutional and institutional limits under the dictatorship of the proletariat independently of the vanguard is not about formal democracy but about how to fight and challenge the vanguard so that is does not fossilize and become revisionist and bourgeoisified.
Bhattarai’s article is not questioning the need of a vanguard party but how to avoid the degeneration of the vanguard under the dictatorship of the proletariat and what can be institutionalized to struggle in case it goes wrong.
D. The Question of Armed Force
Bhattarai starts this section by repeating once again the cardinal principles of Marxist theory of the state but this time in relation to the question of the armed forces. In order to be able to operate against the interest of the exploited classes, the oppressors’ state structure need a standing army that is cut off from the masses and at the service of the dominant class. Smashing the old standing army of the state and arming the people to defend the dictatorship of the proletariat is the first step to eliminate the exploiters’ state structure and to form a new type of state. Then Bhattarai goes on to say:
“However, due to different factors as cited earlier, the Red Army in Russia could not fulfill the dream of the Bolsheviks that it ‘would in the near future provide the basis for replacing the regular army by the armed people’. On the contrary, in course of time the Red Army itself got converted into a large professional army and ultimately it became an instrument of counter-revolution. Similarly, the Chinese Red Army, steeled in the twenty-two years long vicious PW, too, gradually changed its color as a standing army after the revolution and ultimately served as a weapon of counter-revolution. On the basis of these bitter experiences and guided by the scientific ideology of Marxism –Leninism-Maoism on the question of army and state we should strive to build a new type of army as a defender of the proletarian state and medium of continuous revolution, which would be equipped with revolutionary ideology and politics, intimately linked with the general masses and capable of organizing rebellion of the armed masses against counter-revolution. In this context we should be serious to implement the following resolution recently adopted by the Central Committee of our Party:
‘….it should be guaranteed that the people’s army of the 21st century is not marked by modernization with special arms and training confined to a barrack after the capture of state power but remains a torch-bearer of revolution engaged in militarization of the masses and in the service of the masses. It is only by developing armed masses from both ideological and physical point of view that one can resist foreign intervention and counter-intervention; this fact must be made clear before the armed forces right from the beginning. The main thrust of work for the 21st century people’s army should be to complete the historical responsibility of developing conscious armed masses so that they may learn to use their right to rebel.'” [CPN (Maoist) 2004:147]
Here is an old idea taken from the dust of history and brought back to the present as a new re-envisioning of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 21st century. Smashing the old state means at the same time building a new type of state that has a different structure than the old one. A fundamental question in this re-envisioning is the experience of 20th century socialism. What Bhattarai sums up here is how the people’s army in both Soviet Union and China transformed into standing armies that separated from the masses and formed a bourgeois state structure that played in the hands of the revisionist coup to reinstall capitalist state power under the leadership of the new bureaucratic state capitalist class inside the Communist Party.
It is this experience that is fundamental to keep in mind in order to understand Bhattarai’s proposal to organize the new type of state along the lines of the popular army. But what is interesting here is that Bhattarai’s call to move away in the socialism of the 21st century from the standing army model and embrace once again the old proposal of Marx, Engels and Lenin to build a new type of state based on the armed masses (not a professional army), is not his own individual idea but proposed by the CPN(Maoist) since 2001. The document he quotes is the report of the Second National Conference of the CPN (Maoist) held in February 2001.
E. The Question of United Front
In this section, Bhattarai makes a call for a correct united front policy of the proletariat with all exploited classes and oppressed groups. Those groups are, in Nepal, identified as peasants, oppressed nationalities, women, and the dalits in the Hindu caste system.
He makes very clear that the new state in a semi-colonial country has to be the joint dictatorship of several classes and oppressed groups led by the proletariat against imperialism and its local allies. Bhattarai states that “the question of united front is in essence the question of a correct practice of democracy and dictatorship.”
The antagonistic contradictions against the enemy cannot be handled with democratic means and the non-antagonistic contradictions among the people cannot be handled with dictatorial means. The essence of New Democracy is the dialectics between the joint dictatorship against the enemy and the joint democracy within the people. Moreover, against the long tradition of class reductionism in 20th century international communist movement, Bhattarai develops a more subtle and complex analysis of who are the allies of the proletariat and who is the main enemy.
Bhattarai adds the following sum-up from past experience:
“In this context, we should correctly grasp that one of the major reasons for the defeat of the historic Paris Commune was the inability of the Paris workers to materialize a timely united front with the rural peasants and one of the principal problems of socialist construction in Russia was the inability to correctly handle the contradictions among the rural peasants. Particularly in a semi-feudal context like ours, one of the principle basis of building a new type of state would be the correct united front policy with the various strata of the peasants. The revolutionaries should acknowledge this with deep seriousness… Similarly, another big problem encountered while building a proletarian state in the past was related to correctly handling the question of liberation of oppressed nationalities. In the light of all those historical experiences, we should firmly grasp that the best way to solve the national question is to implement the right to self-determination of oppressed nationalities under the leadership of the proletariat according to the concrete time, place and conditions. The new state should strive to correctly handle the national question in the spirit of the following analysis of Lenin:
‘In the same way as mankind can arrive at the abolition of classes only through a transition period of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, it can arrive at the inevitable integration of nations only through a transition period of the complete emancipation of all oppressed nations, i.e., their freedom to secede.’ (Lenin 1916:160)”
The question of the peasants and the oppressed nationalities were not handled correctly in the 20th century experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat such as the Paris commune and the Soviet experience. The question of women liberation and fight against patriarchy is another major task of the new state.
Bhattarai cites “Lenin’s exhortation that ‘the subject most starkly demarcating bourgeois democracy and socialism is the status of women in them’. Hence the specific task of a new proletarian state should be to guarantee special rights to women for a definite period and to ensure them equal rights and status as the men in all spheres.” And, given the specificities of South Asia, Bhattaria said that “the new state should scientifically solve the question of liberation of dalits, who are treated as untouchables according to the Hindu varna (caste) system, and other minority communities oppressed by the old state in different forms.”
It is in the concrete question of the United Front where the discussion about democracy and dictatorship outlined above acquires an important dimension in Bhattarai. He concludes the section with a non-formalistic and non-reductionist articulation of the dialectics between dictatorship and democracy:
“In sum, the real essence and challenge of the new state is to solve the non-antagonistic contradictions among all the oppressed classes, nationalities, regions and gender not through the method of ‘dictatorship’ but through that of ‘democratic centralism’ and to organize a joint dictatorship of all of them against the reactionary classes.”
F. The Question of Construction of Economic Base
This section calls for a dialectical relationship between economic base and the political superstructure of the society. After building a new type of proletarian state (people’s democractic or socialist state) it is imperative to build a corresponding economic base that is planned as opposed to anarchic.
“Thus the quintessential task of the new type of proletarian state is to end the anarchy of production inherent in the feudal, petty bourgeois, bureaucratic bourgeois, etc. economic systems and to construct large scale planned, balanced, organized and controlled socialist economic system… Moreover, without the development of labour productivity to definite higher levels, the material base for socialism and communism cannot be prepared. For, without sufficient production in society that enables distribution to all “according to necessity”, one cannot materially conceive of classless and stateless communism. Hence the new proletarian state should prepare the economic base for socialism and communism by increasing the capacity of labour through rapid expansion of education and culture and by increasing productivity through maximum utilization of science and technology and organization of large-scale production.”
Here Bhattarai is emphasizing the long term goal of communism. He is saying that without higher levels of productivity it would be materially impossible to achieve a classless and stateless communism. If he would have said just this, the accusation of reproducing the Stalinist fetishism with the forces of production, that was increased by all the revisionists like Kruschov and Deng Xiaoping, would apply to Bhattarai. However, this is what Bhattarai said right after the above outlined paragraph:
“However in the past, particularly in Russia during the period of Stalin, a mechanical and metaphysical conception that the development of productive forces by itself would usher in socialism and communism was prevalent and a wrong outlook prevailed that equated state ownership with ‘socialism’. These, of course, were proved wrong by the later developments. The development of the productive forces and state ownership are necessary preconditions for socialism, but they themselves are not adequate and complete. More important than this are the socialist labour relations of production and socialist transformation of all the organs of the superstructure including the state and the development of socialist consciousness of the masses. Drawing lessons from these bitter experiences, Mao’s China, particularly during the GPCR, had developed a new system of socialist economic construction based on the principle of ‘grasp revolution, promote production’, which the present day revolutionaries should emulate and strive to develop further according to the changed circumstances. One should constantly keep in mind that the economic base for socialism and communism can be prepared only by resolving the long-standing contradictions between advanced productive forces and backward production relations, between physical labour and mental labour, between rural and urban areas, between agriculture and industry, between economic production and defense production, etc., through conscious and planned struggles.”
Contrary to RCP accusation, here Bhattarai is acknowledging the achievements of the Cultural Revolution. Developing the productive forces is necessary but not sufficient. By itself, the development of the productive forces is not adequate. Since it is wrong to equate state ownership with socialism, it is also wrong to equate development of the productive forces with advancement towards socialism and communism. Moreover, transformation of the superstructure including the state and the masses’ consciousness is a fundamental task to revolutionarize the society. He finished this section by constantly placing politics in command and arouse the initiative of the masses to lay the foundation of socialism and communism.
G. The Question of International Relations
Here diplomatic relations are subordinated to marching ahead and while resisting imperialism/ expansionism. To achieve this goal, strategically, it is necessary to to unite all the proletarian forces on the basis of proletarian internationalism. Tactically, he calls to take advantage of the inter-imperialist contradictions while maintaining diplomatic relations with all countries on the basis of peaceful coexistence. In the case of Nepal, in particular, he calls to maintain peaceful diplomatic relations with India and China on the basis of non-alignment while marching forward to establish the South Asia Soviet Federation which is a political framework once revolutions are finished in the whole of South Asia. This is how Bhattarai puts it:
“In the past century, even though the more than a dozen of the socialist or people’s democratic states in the world perished mainly due to their own internal causes, there can be no doubt that world imperialist sabotage and interventions played an important secondary role in their downfall. Hence it is imperative for the new type of proletarian state to be built now to follow a policy of marching ahead while resisting against imperialism/ expansionism/hegemonism from the very beginning. For this, it is necessary, on the one hand, to unite with all proletarian forces of the world on the basis of proletarian internationalism, strategically, and on the other, to maintain diplomatic relations with all the countries on the basis of the policy of peaceful coexistence with different state systems and to attempt to derive maximum advantage out of inter-imperialist contradictions, tactically. Within this general policy and in the specific geo-political context of Nepal, we should strive to maintain diplomatic relations with the two immediate big neighbors on the basis of non-alignment and mutual benefits and to march forward to establish South Asian Soviet Federation after completing revolution in whole of South Asia as envisioned by our Party’s Second National Conference held in 2001.”
H. The Question of Continuous Revolution and Withering Away of the State
In this section, Bhattarai further develops the question of what it mean to have a state that continuous revolution to wither away rather than to perpetuate itself. He states in the beginning of this section:
“The main reason why the proletarian state or the dictatorship of the proletariat was termed ‘no longer a state in the proper sense of the word’ by Marx and Engels is that it is not a medium of preserving or defending class contradiction as in traditional class society but is a medium of transition from class society to classless society and the object of withering away of itself in the process. Thus the main essence or particularity of the new type of state is, firstly, that it is the means of continuous revolution against the residual and newly emerging classes, and secondly, that it withers away in the process. This is not separate but a single interrelated process.”
Following Engels, Bhattarai states that the transition to communism is “a transformation from the means of ‘government of persons’ into means of ‘administration of things’.” The end of class contradictions implies the end of the political role of the state as a coercive force, “but the mechanism of voluntary organization to manage the essential goods and services in society remains intact.”
After stating these general principles of the transition to communism, Bhattarai proceed to evaluate the experience of 20th century socialism. He said:
“However, it is a bitter truth that in the past the proletarian state powers instead of serving the masses and acting as instruments of continuous revolution turned into masters of the people and instruments of counter-revolution, and rather than moving in the direction of withering away transformed into huge totalitarian bureaucracies and instruments of repression. The present day revolutionaries should draw appropriate lessons from this and should strive to lay proper foundation for the new type of state from the very beginning. In this context the first thing the new state power should acknowledge and practice from the very inception, as Lenin initially propounded and Mao subsequently raised to a new height, is the concept of GPCR or continuous revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. As the defeated reactionary class can again raise its head in a new form and the material condition of the state power itself can give rise to a new bureaucratic capitalist class from within the revolutionary camp, we should institutionalize a mechanism of continuous struggle with the participation of the wider masses under the leadership of the proletariat in every sphere of the state and the superstructure. In other words, advancing from the GPCR in China we should look for new methods to exercise all round dictatorship over the old and the new reactionary classes and to continue this process till all classes are abolished in society.”
Here the question of “proletarian democracy” is not formalistic bourgeois ideology, but a fundamental question against the degeneration of sections of the Communist leadership into a new reactionary of class known as a bureaucratic bourgeois class. The conscious mass participation of people under the dictatorship of the proletariat is the only mechanism available to counteract a bureaucratic degeneration towards the restoration of capitalist power under the new form of state bureaucratic capitalism.
“…to transfer the state power that had become master of the people in the past into servant of the people and to lead it towards ultimate withering away, methods of ensuring participation of the wider masses in the state or expanding greater democracy in society should be institutionalized. In this context it may be worthwhile to keep in mind the following statement of Lenin:
‘From the moment all members of society, or at least the vast majority, have learned to administer the state themselves, have taken this work into their own hands, have organized control over the insignificant capitalist minority, over the gentry who wish to preserve their capitalist habits and over the workers who have been thoroughly corrupted by capitalism-from this moment the need for government of any kind begins to disappear altogether. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it becomes unnecessary. The more democratic the ‘state’ which consists of the armed workers, and which is ‘no longer a state in the proper sense of the word’, the more rapidly every form of state begins to wither away.’ (Lenin 1917d: 334-5)”
RCP accusation that Bhattarai’s article is about formalistic bourgeois democratic principles, is simply false and a very convenient distortion to make their case against the Nepalese Maoist. Moreover, given Lenin’s call for a “complete democracy” under the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” the RCP accusation of Bhattarai as if upholding a formalistic bourgeois democratic conception, would have to be extended to Lenin himself. The call for more democracy is an instrument under the dictatorship o the proletariat to intervene politically without a “greater democracy” under the dictatorship of the proletariat it would simply be impossible for the active participation of the masses to continue the revolution towards a revolutionarization of the relations of production, the state power structures, the division between manual and intellectual labor, the culture and the ideas of the society beyond capitalism and, in the case of Nepal, beyond semi-feudal forms towards communism. So, democracy here is an instrument for continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is why Bhattarai concludes this section of the article with the following:
“Thus, continuous revolution against the residual ‘pugmarks of the old state’ and newly emerging classes and participation of the wider masses in such a continuous revolution is the method of withering away of the state initially hammered by Marx and Engels and later developed by Lenin and Mao. Withering away is, therefore, neither the abolition of the state immediately after the revolution as contended by the anarchists, nor is it first developing in a bureaucratic form like the old state of the bourgeoisie and then miraculously collapsing some day in the distant future as claimed by the revisionists, or more particularly by the dogmato-revisionists. Withering away means cessation of only the ‘political’ function of the state as an instrument of coercion, and it begins on the very day of consummation of the revolution but gets completed only with the total victory over the residual and newly emerging classes through continuous revolution and with the ultimate submersion of the state in the sea of the masses. The new proletarian (including the people’s democratic) state should correctly grasp and implement this, and only in that sense would this state be different or ‘new’ from the old one.”
This is a new type of state. RCP is caught in a model where the Party replaces the proletariat in the process of decision. The dictatorship of the party is not equivalent to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The return to the idea of a new type of state is a return to the spirit of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao. What is needed according to Bhattarai is a state with structures that allow the masses to take control over their social existence in all of its dimensions in order to revolutionarize the political, economic, cultural processes towards communism. The vanguard cannot replace the class. It has to serve as a vehicle to guarantee an institutional structure of proletarian democracy and proletarian decision in all aspects of state affairs.
Even if the Party is composed of the most conscious and dedicated people committed to revolution, it cannot replace the proletariat in the name of “representing the interest of the proletariat.” The new type of state should allow the people to organize multiple parties and to have direct democracy in the decision making of the country.
As Bhattarai states in the conclusion of the article:
“Every state is in essence an instrument of dictatorship over certain classes and that of democracy for some others. In this sense dictatorship and democracy remain as two sides of the same coin in every state, and it is just ridiculous to talk of a state with either only dictatorship or only democracy. But it is a great paradox of history that whereas the proletarian state with an essence of dictatorship over the limited exploiting classes and that of democracy for a majority of exploited classes has been denounced as ‘dictatorial’, the bourgeois democracy with an essence of democracy for a handful of exploiting classes and that of dictatorship over the majority of working classes is hailed as an ideal model of universal and eternal democracy.”
It is this paradox that needs to be overcome by developing not only the dictatorship aspect but more importantly the democratic aspect of the proletarian state. Here is a list of the short comings of the proletarian state in the 20th century that Bhattarai listed in the conclusion and that is central to understand the proposals outlined above:
1-practical cessation of differences between the Party and the state
2-gradual inaction and demise of the people’s representative institutions
3-development and expansion of the standing army in place of arming the masses
4-virtual emasculation of the electoral system and freedom of speech and press
5-use of state force to solve contradictions within the Party and among the people
6-lack of people’s participation
7-supervision and intervention in the state affairs and development of totalitarian tendencies
The institutional structures of the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be the same everywhere. We need to avoid the abstract universalism where one model serves all. So, Bhattarai ends the article with an important statement made by Lenin:
“The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Lenin 1917d: 286)
In other words, the essence of the transitional revolutionary state to be built after smashing the old reactionary class state would be dictatorship of the proletariat or democratic dictatorship of the oppressed people. But the political forms of such transitional revolutionary dictatorship can be varied in keeping with different time and places, and we should exercise our revolutionary creativity in practicing and developing such forms.
Particularly in the light of the historical experiences of easy degeneration of the past proletarian states into bureaucratic capitalist states, we should strive to find newer forms of the ‘transitional’ state, which is said to be ‘no longer a state in the proper sense of the word’… The main thing is the correct proletarian outlook of the leadership and the question of ensuring continuous and active participation of the masses in the state affairs. This is the rationale behind our Party’s recent attempt to raise the question of democracy from a new perspective. The proletarian revolutionaries should firmly grasp that the question of democracy and new type of state are inseparably interlinked, and they should initiate the process of withering away of the state by submerging the state in the sea of the great democracy of the masses, as Lenin had said: ‘The more democratic the ‘state’… the more rapidly every form of state begins to wither away.’
In this context, we should defeat the anarchist tendency that denies the very necessity of a transitional state, the Right revisionist tendency that gets swayed by the formal democracy of the bourgeoisie and abandons dictatorship of the proletariat, and the dogmato-revisionist tendency that vulgarizes the proletarian (or people’s democratic) dictatorship into a totalitarian bureaucratic capitalist dictatorship, and must-strive to establish the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought that leads to a classless and stateless communism through continuous revolution and withering away of the state by exercising great democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat (or people’s democratic dictatorship). In this eventuality nobody can stop our great campaign to build a new type of proletarian state in the 21st century and march towards communism through continuous revolution and withering away of the state.”
Is the dictatorship of the proletariat up for election in Bhattarai’s proposal as is implied by the RCP? No. Is the vanguard in a position of not being able to decide on its own in order to act and lead in moments of military aggression, civil war or serious political crisis? No. What Bhattarai proposes is that the normal functioning of the dictatorship of the proletariat has to be through an open and broad proletarian democracy. But “democratic” here means within certain institutional and constitutional limits. This means that the multiple parties allowed to participate in elections under the dictatorship of the proletariat would have to respect the institutional and constitutional order of the new type of state. Without these constraints, it would not be a proletarian democracy but an anarchy.
All democracies are class democracies and have institutional and constitutional constraints, including bourgeois democracy. Proletarian democracy should not be an exception to this rule. The party for Bhattarai leads by constantly being challenged and challenging the status quo. Otherwise, if it has no challenges from below and from other political parties, it gets fossilized.
The concept of “greater democracy” and “multi-party democracy” proposed by Bhattarai is to enhance the mass intervention over the state affairs under the dictartorship of the proletariat in order to revolutionize the relations of production, the power structures and the old ideas towards a classless, exploitation-less and stateless social system.
This is Bhattarai’s spirit, despite all the distortions made by the RCP and others in the international communist movement. Avakian and his followers defend the one-party system institutionalized by Stalin in the 1930s and accepted as the model for the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 20th century. The only difference is that Avakian proposes a one-party state with more space for dissent, free speech and individual rights guaranteed by a constitution.
But the question that remains is how real proletarian democracy would be in the 21st century if dissent is left to an individual level and if the possibility to organize a political party independent from the Communist Party is forbidden. Is proletarian democracy able to flourish and revive under a Party-State system? That is why Avakian and his followers became obsessed with Bhatarai’s article. They attack anyone who dares to challenge their dogma and propose a “greater democracy” under the dictatorship of the proletariat. The problem that RCP has with Bhattarai’s article is that it challenges precisely this dogma of the 20th century international communist movement.
Avakian’s re-envisioning of communism should really be called “re-cycling of 20th century communism in the 21st century.” There is nothing new under Avakian’s so-called new synthesis. Instead, Bhattarai is making a proposal for a new and different model of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 21st century based on the mistakes and problems of 20th century communist movement.