For an International University of Marxism
Completing humanity’s historic transition from capitalism to socialism is not rocket science, it is more complicated. It will demand dynamic mobilizing of the international working class under rapidly changing conditions and enormous social, political and environmental pressures.
Marxism is the activist “rocket science” of the working class, the class charged with leading the transition. Marxism itself constantly changes, as it integrates labor’s experiences and achievements in order to advance revolutionary practice. Marxism has progressed by relentless self-correction, drawing lessons from our movement’s failures and errors as well as victories.
If scooting a rocket past Mars requires comprehensive integration of physics, math, engineering (and much more), is it not evident that completing the historic transition requires comprehensive education in Marxism?
Such education demands everything from “elementary” schools to colleges and universities of Marxism, with plenty of teachers, teaching materials and practice. (In addition, because capitalism fails “ordinary” workers, many scientists of the transition may also need lessons in reading and writing.)
Who could start a University of Marxism?
The necessary schools, universities, teachers and materials of Marxism are sorely lacking in the capitalist world. Even in states formed by socialist revolutions, such as China or Cuba today, teachers of Marxism often express frustration. So how can we advance effective learning of Marxism? Where can we start?
Part of the answer may be found by asking, who has both the interest and the resources to champion learning of Marxism worldwide? Imperialist states, for example, certainly have the resources – but their interest lies in strangling Marxism, not promoting it! Communist Parties have an interest in advancing Marxism, but many lack the resources. The major exceptions are the Communist Parties in power, which have the resources and the interest, although internal tasks and struggles, difficulties in governing, and pressures from the exploiters, have often throttled the task.
Changes in the world political economy
A longer response to the question can be developed by assessing objective changes in the world political economy, and in the strengths and weaknesses of the international working class. With the decline of capitalism, we find a problem of decomposition of the working class in capitalist countries, and recomposition on an unfavorable basis (and sometimes not at all). By contrast, there has been development of the working class in states formed by socialist revolution.
Let’s start with capitalism. Since the mid-1970s, growing contradictions of the old social system have led to a sharp rise in unemployment, under-employment, informal and self-employment in most (not all) capitalist countries. Self-employment can now be found even in mines and industry. This rise in unemployment and under-employment is a driving factor of decomposition.
The capitalists have used rising unemployment and improvements in communications and transport (and “free trade” treaties) to increase competition among the workers of the world. They have also generally reduced the size of new factories and taken to scattering them – they have learned that large industrial concentrations encourage labor militancy. And they rarely offer permanent employment to youth – the energy of revolution.
One result is unparalleled insecurity of life in most capitalist countries. Such insecurity is a revolutionary factor. But the constant labor turnover and rising competition among workers and the oppressed also makes it more difficult to organise – and advance education in Marxism. The collapse of the Soviet Union (and eleven similar states) has not helped, introducing confusion in the Communist movement – and millions of newly unemployed. But it has also served as a clear warning.
It’s different in the states formed by socialist revolutions
Conditions differ in the five remaining states formed by socialist revolutions (China, Vietnam, Laos, People’s Korea and Cuba). In the past two decades, these states have recorded significant economic growth, expansion of the working class, rising concentrations of industrial workers, and improvements in education and culture.
China and Vietnam in particular have experienced considerable economic development while the capitalist world suffered multiple crises. In just four years, 2007 to 2011, China’s industrial production jumped from 62 percent of US levels to 120 percent, according to UN accounting (which exaggerates “value-added” in imperialist manufacturing). China’s rise since 2007 has been even more pronounced compared to Europe or Japan, where industry continues to suffer.
One result is that the productivity of labour in manufacturing in China appears higher now than in any capitalist country, rich or poor. (Productivity in basic industry and especially agriculture remains lower in China.) This could be a historically-decisive development – labour productivity in the Soviet Union unfortunately lagged behind that in capitalist countries.
Changes in the working class – and Marxism – in China
China today probably accounts for as many regularly-employed industrial workers as the rest of the world combined. The number of industrial workers in Vietnam has also zoomed, especially since reunification in 1975. (Marxism has historically placed an emphasis on industrial workers, in part because conditions in industry facilitate organisation, discipline, class consciousness and solidarity, and internationalism; furthermore, there are thousands of ties and common interests between industrial workers and all workers and oppressed.)
Along with economic development, China has also seen significant strengthening of Marxism. Critical was a deepening understanding of internal and external factors that facilitated counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, and the real reasons behind the seeming stability of imperialist countries (from 1945 until 2007, that is). These two developments had superficially appeared to contradict Marxism.
One reflection of Marxism’s resurgence in China is the elevation of the Institute of Marxism of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) to the Academy of Marxism. From the 1980s into the early 2000s, the Institute of Marxism was a relatively small component of CASS, with bourgeois think-tanks and thinkers a larger component. This began to change in 2005, when China’s leaders elevated the Institute to the status of Academy.
By 2014, the Academy of Marxism had become the largest component of CASS, and many of those bourgeois thinkers were expelled from CASS. Leaders of CASS and of the Academy of Marxism increasingly committed themselves to advancing the cause of Marxism internationally, along with international unity among Communist and workers’ parties.
Nearly a decade ago, the World Socialism Research Institute, headed by Li Shenming, a former president of CASS, began to host regular World Socialism Forums. Initially, forums included only handfuls of participants from Communist Parties worldwide. But in recent years, the number of CPs has increased sharply. CPs from all the ruling parties – China, Cuba, Vietnam, People’s Korea, Laos – have been represented. Also present have been members of CPs from Australia, France, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, India, Tunisia, Egypt, Brazil, Colombia, Portugal and the US, among others.
Migrant workers also increasingly embracing Marxism
Based on some remarkable work by Marxists in the 1950s, China’s leaders realised that to “grow the productive forces”, China had to “go to capitalist school”. Market changes and “opening up” followed, starting in the late 1970s.
This has brought millions of migrant workers from farms into industry – and face to face with capitalist exploitation, often in the most naked forms. A growing number of migrant workers are embracing Marxism, along with their children, many of them also migrant workers with varying education past high school.
China’s colleges and universities sport well over one hundred Marxist Student Associations, with migrant workers and their children often participating. A major task today is to overcome the gap that has developed between China’s leaders and the mass of these workers. By drawing the lessons from the collapse of the Soviet Union (and the important Soviet miners’ strikes in the summer of 1989, which led workers to repudiate Communist Party leadership), or from the rise of Solidarnosc in Poland in 1980, Marxism can close this gap. That would certainly be a productive course for an International University of Marxism.
The 2015 proposal for an International University of Marxism
At the 2014 World Socialism forum in Beijing, Wu Enuyan, a CPC leader, historian of the Soviet Union, and teacher at the Academy of Marxism, displayed pictures of the Moscow-based Communist University of the Toilers of the East. The young Deng Xiaoping had studied there, as had Zhu De, who studied Marxist theory – and military science. (A decade earlier, Cde.Wu Enuyan, at the time Party secretary at the Academy of Marxism, had expressed great frustration to this writer with the ineffectiveness of education in Marxism in China.)
The pictures of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in Moscow brought memories of the emphasis that Soviet leaders had placed on international education in Marxism. Discussions followed with Richard Levins, the great Marxist ecologist at Cuba’s Institute of Ecology and Systematics and Harvard University, who suggested an international university of Marxism.
In May 2015, the president of the Academy of Marxism, Deng Chundong, briefly visited the US, meeting with CPUSA members and making a presentation at the Center for Marxist Education in Boston. CPUSA comrades in Boston proposed that the CPC consider creating an international university of Marxism, with a physical campus, course materials (“in 200 languages, please”), as well as an online presence. Comrades renewed the proposal at the World Socialism forum in Beijing this past October. Cde Deng promised to pursue the proposal. (A young leader of the Academy suggested that a summer school might be a good starting point.)
The potential of a University of Marxism
“Marx U” courses could range from the ABCs of Marxism to discussions of general and specific challenges facing Communist parties, labor union policies, and much more. Correction of errors our Movement has made could take the form of describing the panoply of problems that leaders faced at the time, the various possible solutions, and how to assess them. Course materials could be used internationally, and at least some presentations and the ensuing discussion could be recorded and broadcast.
An International University of Marxism would also allow comrades from Communist Parties worldwide to meet, expand our horizons, test ping pong skills – and better understand the common and particular challenges we face.
Development of an International University could thus help strengthen not only Marxism, but its living embodiments, Communist Parties worldwide. It could help advance conscious unity among our Parties, and in the international working class movement. Since 1848 and 1917, this part at least is no longer rocket science.
Wadi’h Halabi works on the Economics Commission of the CPUSA and the Center for Marxist Education in Massachusetts (USA). The ideas expressed in this paper do not necessarily represent those of the CPUSA or CPA. Special thanks are due Cdes.Jin Huiming, Li Shenming, Deng Chundong, Wu Enyuan, Cheng Enfu, Liu Shuchun, Ding Xiaoqin, Zheng Zhifa, Richard Levins, Sandy Rosen, Gary Hicks and Al Sargis. Reasons why Marxism has placed such importance on industrial workers are drawn from a summary in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.