The reform strategy pursued by China since 1978 appears to be similar to Gorbachov’s perestroika; however, there are profound differences between the Chinese and Soviet approaches that help to explain the success of one and the failure of the other. China’s approach was extremely cautious and pragmatic. If a reform worked it was extended to new areas; if it failed then it was abandoned. In China, practice is the sole criterion for testing truth. Reform in China was patient and results-oriented whereas Gorbachov made the fatal mistake of trying to do too much, too fast.
In the Soviet Union, Gorbachov’s team economists had been influenced by the neoliberal spell and came to the conclusion that planning and state guidance were harmful. Michael Roberts observes that Gorbachov’s sudden dismantling of the planning agencies provoked chronic excess domestic demand and the need for foreign imports leading the Soviet economy to implode. Meanwhile, the contrary was happening in China where the relaxation of restrictions on private capital development was combined with state control and planned and state-led heavy investment.
Soviet economists transitioned from central-planning dogma to neoliberal dogma, failing to come up with creative approaches that accurately took account of existing strengths and weaknesses. The Chinese approach was that there should be no blind obedience to superiors or books; there should be obedience to truth and facts only.
Gorbachov’s team members were never able to reach consensus for their plans. They merely sidelined those in the Communist Party who did not agree with them. As a result, there was never any real unity of purpose around perestroika. In China, the results-oriented approach allowed the top leadership to win round the Central Committee, the regional leaders and the party rank and file.
The Chinese leadership realised that the country could not survive without the uncontested leadership of the Communist Party. In a changing economic environment, where private capital was being accumulated and a new class of entrepreneurs emerging, continued Communist Party rule was essential to guarantee that development benefitted the masses and that the new owners of capital did not become politically dominant.
What kind of democracy do the Chinese people need today? It can only be socialist democracy, people’s democracy and not bourgeois democracy. Socialism cannot be built up without the dictatorship of the proletariat. Moreover, China has not followed the Soviet example of attacking its own history. Deng said: ‘We will not do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin.’
In the light of the experiments with socialism in the former Soviet Union and contemporary China and failure of the former and the partial success of the latter in achieving the goals of socialism let us delve into the ideas of Subhas Chandra Bose in order to reflect on his position as to how to build up socialism in India.
Netaji had advocated the socialist system for India. In his reckoning, the alternative to Communism is another theory of social reconstruction. The objectives of the socialist state in India would be to uproot landlordism, agricultural indebtedness and to promote industrial development. Bose identified himself with the exploited masses of India. These masses were to be liberated from the tentacles of capitalism.
He contended that while industrializing the country and modernizing agriculture, the state will step in. The state, in his view, will be able to play a pioneering role if it is assigned an authoritarian character. This is the reason why he hailed the Soviet planned economic system as a great achievement. He was in favour of a centralized state. Although Subhas Chandra Bose stood for an authoritarian state, he was interested in raising the slogan of ‘all power to the Indian People’ to combine a peoples’ state with a strong centralized state. In conformity with this line of thinking, Subhas wanted to promote collective affiliation of workers’ and peasants’ organisations to convert the Congress into a broad-based mass party. A party will be identified with workers and peasants to undertake far-reaching socioeconomic reforms. In such a situation the government will act as the servant of the people.
Under these circumstances one will not be surprised if there is a synthesis between Communism and fascism in India. Netaji claimed that socialism did not originate in the books of Karl Marx. It had its origin in the thought and culture of India. Although he wanted socialism to have its roots in India ~ its culture and tradition ~ he asserted at the same time that socialism in India would be enriched by material prosperity and scientific achievements of the West.
Lenin and Stalin could not provide a fixed model of socialism. In the Soviet Union both the centralized economy and the economic reforms failed, but in China although the centralized economy had its shortcomings, the reforms met with success. How can we account for the failure of the reforms in the Soviet Union and their success in China? In the Soviet Union Gorbachov and others came under the neoliberal spell and this caused the Soviet economy to collapse. In China on the contrary the relaxation of restrictions on private capital was combined with state control. This can account for China’s growth after the introduction of reforms.
Subhas Chandra Bose was eager to establish a socialist state in India. In order to realize socialism he was interested in establishing a centralized state. But during Bose’s working career the centralized economy during the ‘30s and ‘40s during the Stalinist period in the Soviet Union was working well. So Bose could not think of introducing either a neo-liberal system or bringing a measure of unity between minimum restrictions on private capital and state control.
It is true that Subhas sought to provide an authoritarian character to the state but his objective was to combine a people’s state with a strong centralized state. He wanted to promote collective affiliation of workers’ and peasants’ organisations so that the state could act as the servant of the people. Like the Marxists of China and unlike the Soviet Marxists, Subhas sought to trace the roots of Indian socialism to the tradition and culture of India. But along with his nationalistic approach he was not oblivious of the impact of the Western material and scientific environment on Indian socialism. (Concluded)