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Issue #1928      August 17, 2020

Marxism and socialism in the 21st century

At the end of the 20th Century, socialism received a severe setback with the re-establishment of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Mongolia, and South Yemen. In some countries the overthrow was relatively peaceful and was even preceded by negotiations, in others violent civil wars were fought along with the re-emergence of racial conflicts. A new era of global domination was to ensure at the behest of US imperialism, along with their European allies.

Fast train technology, one of the many achievements of communist China.

It seemed as though history had reached its climax, and at its peak stood capitalist democracy which saw the US as its best manifestation. Socialism, on the other hand, was an historical aberration, a deviation brought about by the crazed will of Marxists and communists following a dogma that had led history down a wrong path in human development. In order to course correct those that strayed, former Soviet and non-aligned states established themselves on a system based on capitalist democracy. It even seemed to some as if China had seen the errors of its ways, and was transitioning to Capitalism.

Globalisation was the new norm, and the free movement of capitalist corporations would lead to a new world order of global prosperity. Marxism was finished, and liberal democracy was supreme.

The only problem was that new contradictions began to break out: The result of the Soviet Revolution was that hundreds of countries now existed where there had been empires; The empires of Europe, Japan, and the US were still striking out on independent roads; China was still developing what it called Socialism with Chinese characteristics; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) refused to disappear; Vietnam and Laos emerged as newly independent countries; Cuba stood defiantly off the coast of Florida dedicated to the struggle to maintain its independence. These countries had somehow survived the crisis in the Socialist World and despite enormous difficulties had redefined Socialism finding new ways to adhere to the Socialist path.

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet leaders responded to what was a new move by imperialism and the development of globalisation by pushing Perestroika and Glasnost as the solution to this crisis. Still, the Soviet Economy was confronted by new problems: a stagnation and a loss of momentum, increased militarism by the imperialists, and increased boycotts.

Naturally, a decline in socialist morality developed in the peoples’ democracies and movements designed to undermine socialist democracy sprung up. To answer this, the Soviets needed to open their economy and to reform their production systems to ensure that distribution occurred in accordance with socialist principles and that the Soviet economy was enhanced along with the creativeness of the Soviet people. The authority and connection of the party to the people was under strain and “new political thinking” was introduced which underplayed the role of the party and socialist democracy. As a consequence of these new ideas, a pluralist situation in which bourgeois Liberalism was given a leading role emerged. The institutions of the Soviets were undermined through the increase in the role of the Duma and bourgeois democracy was introduced. The party was split, and populist forces emerged to overthrow and destroy the peoples’ dictatorship. Rampant corruption had eaten the Soviet state out from within and the organs of the people were so corrupted that those who seized the Party’s and peoples’ assets came directly from within the party.

Marxists have an historical responsibility to examine this development and get away from the characterisation of the individuals involved as either treacherous or incompetent. Fidel Castro made remarks in his reflections that Gorbachev was facing an impossible situation when he set about his reforms and was doomed to failure. Fidel’s kinder view of Gorbachev is where we should start as Marxists and therefore as social scientists. We must study the realities of the situation and not see the will of individuals as primary but as governed by the laws of historical and social development.

When looking at why Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos, and the DPRK survived with communist parties in power, with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie not restored, it would be good to see what they did differently from the Socialist states that failed, and what they did similarly to each other (this will be the subject of analysis further down this article).

Let’s look further at some of the other contradictions that have appeared to contradict the imperialists’ view of history. One such view is that the end of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism did not restore the world to a pre-Soviet configuration. However, the empires that were toppled remained toppled; world peace did not break out, in fact global hot-spots increased; the technological and scientific revolution deepened; climate change assumed even more of an urgent problem for humanity; the threat of nuclear and military catastrophe has increased; in some areas of the world, poverty has increased. Thus, what has been emerging instead is a multi-polar world, with new moves towards socialism alongside global financial and economic catastrophes. In the developed world, these economic failures have revealed entrenched poverty and homelessness (despite a surplus of housing) as been a feature of the developed world. However, systematic underemployment and economic exclusion are more developed features of the system. Other features of all the developed Capitalist nations include: populism and extreme rightist politics, along with the suppression of democratic rights, attacks on the working class, and economic gains are features of all the developed Capitalist nations.

The reaction by the world communist movement to the loss of the Soviet Union, the emergence of these new contradictions, and a struggle with this new reality has seen the thinking lagging behind these developments. What followed was back-to-the-past and dogmatic interpretations of Marxism that has led to splits in communist parties of left and right deviations. However, while the Soviet Union will never be restored, socialism will, and it is recovering and finding new paths.


“Each in their own way” has become the dominant theme. The Cuban people had their special period in which they defied imperialism and continued to build socialism. Cuba now embarks on a new Era to raise the living standards of the Cuban people and to build socialism according to their own reality. In taking a path towards raising the material and cultural level of the people, Cuba is seeking to learn from, and not repeat the mistakes of, other socialist countries who took this path before them. A path where they will tell you they have made unnecessary as well as necessary compromises with existing capitalism, i.e. imperialism which is the form of capitalism in the world today. The task for the Cubans is that they must find what is necessary and what is a mistake.


Vietnam suffered great hardship coming out of the Vietnam War with enormous damage to its Southern population who, as a consequence of this period, have a different historical experience than the northern part of the country. They experienced partition of their country under imperialism and have real economic differences, as well as political and cultural changes brought about by this separation. This includes the stronger role of the Catholic church in the south, and the remnants of the South Vietnamese regime – a legacy of racial and other divisions that still linger as a feature.

The underdevelopment of the economy has led to many social problems. Huge amounts of capital were destroyed, along with the health of many people, during the French then American war. The legacy of the relations with China that stretch over a millennium, and the fierce need for National liberation and rejuvenation have both a positive and negative feature.

Although embarking on their reforms at a similar time to other socialist countries, Vietnam has done many things differently. These differences are the decisions of the Vietnamese people and are in correspondence to the realities faced by the Vietnamese people.


The changes in China have come from the reality of the Chinese people. They have been initiated in response to problems faced in the unleashing of the productive capacity and creativity of the masses. Capitalist states expected a cakewalk towards domination of China by imperialism and their corporations. China was certainly swamped at first with the invasion and ideological push of the Washington consensus, and many will say that they made too many concessions, gave too much influence to the forces of capitalism, and that these had very negative consequences for the Chinese people. Exploitative practises re-emerged; prostitution and corruption followed in the wake of the opening up. Attempts at the restoration of a capitalist dictatorship has been the constant, including the attempt at a colour revolution in Beijing during the Tiananmen incidents. However, unlike the Soviet Party, the Chinese party and people have had the strength to re-surge back against this and to strengthen their position. Counter-revolution lives constantly near revolution, waiting for the revolution to lose its vibrancy, its connection to the people to be corrupted from within and thereby rot from within. The current struggle of the Chinese party against corruption is a revolutionary struggle for the health of the revolution.

To counter Washington, the Beijing consensus has been released. To overcome the American Dream is the Chinese Dream, these are anti-imperialist in character as they are about standing up to the domination of US imperialism. The concepts of Peaceful Co-existence, mutually beneficial trade, and “one country, two systems” are all revolutionary Marxist concepts.

To its enormous credit the Soviet Union gave aid on an unconditional basis to the developing world to assist in the anti-colonial struggle, but this aid was at the cost of the living standards of the Soviet People. It was unsustainable, and we see also that the trade of the Soviet Union was again unbalanced and led to economic loss to the Soviet People. This defied the principle of mutually beneficial trade; the development of the Socialist world was compromised. The Belt and Road Initiative is to provide for mutually beneficial aid and development to countries along its route, to free them from dependency to increase their independence. This is along the principle that in the age of imperialism national independence assumes a revolutionary character and is anti-imperialist by nature. This is feature of Marxism in the 21st Century. China’s aid to Latin America is not a new form of imperialism but a challenge to imperialism.

The success of China in turning globalism on its head and grabbing control of the international trade and development has sent imperialism into an overdrive. The protectionism of the Trump administration is a shift in the global policies of imperialism to counter China’s grabbing of globalisation and putting forward a people’s globalism, a shared future. Trump has attacked his gang of thieves because they have not responded to this new reality and have begun to seek a separate relationship with China. The trade sanctions are part of the US hegemonic ambitions, the attack on Russia is to bring them back. The imposition of a Military levy (two per cent of GDP) on the Vassal states of Australia, Canada, and others is to support the US Military Industrial Complex but also to integrate these nations into this complex. The similarity of reforms in the western nations include: increased retirement age, lower wages, higher unemployment, reduced social security, increased privatisation, common anti-terrorist laws through increasing security organisations powers, and an attack on the organisations of the working class.

Shared commonalities

Communists need to seize upon and develop these contradictions. We must also increase our understanding of the lesson that there is no model for Socialism. Our approach must begin from our own reality in touch with the people of our own lands. To call for workers of all lands to unite under the banner of Marxism assumes that those workers are conscious and independent of the bourgeoisie, that they are organised with their own party.

The most common universals of the surviving socialist countries is the existence of strong united communist parties with the support of the people. The other commonality is the existence of trade unions that play the dual role of defending the workers from abuses, and of defending and strengthening the role of workers in the state. These organisations must increasingly meet the needs of workers in legal training and in social issues. They are not just service organisations but are active organisations of the working-class which work to bring in laws for the working people, audit public and private organisations, among pursuing other needs for the people. They must be progressive in driving reform and production to meet the needs of the working people and their allies.

Many Communists and trade unionists see trade unions in their role as opponents of the bourgeois state or, as is the case with yellow unions, the subordination of the needs of workers to the capitalist state, slowing the struggle of workers for independence from the capitalist class. However, socialist trade unions must subordinate the state to the needs of the workers and must organise the workers in this struggle.

The growth of the Chinese unions is still in progress and the consciousness of their role is still developing. The unions must be a dominant part of any Socialist system. The unions should embrace the vast majority of the working class and be active at all levels and in all parts of society. The presence of Chinese unions in workplaces is part of a socialist system, they are not there to supervise the workers but to provide assistance and to supervise the companies.

On an ideological level the other universal is to see Marxism as a thought, a reflection of reality, and an active science in changing reality. This is what leads the communists to the conclusion that thoughts should be checked with historical practice, that there is a unity of theory and practice. That in accordance with the basic thoughts of Marxism that knowledge is continuous, that development is continuous, and that the revolution is continuous. Marxism should reflect the reality of our world and seek to change it based on the discovery of the laws that govern the development of human society. Marx overcame Utopian socialism and established scientific socialism. In the crisis of a new era, we must not retreat to utopias.

The Marxism of the 21st Century must build on our successes and learn from our failures. It is still reflecting the realities of our world and calling forth a new era where mankind can control their destiny and end the exploitation of man by man.

Next article – ACFS Perth celebrates Cuba’s national Day of Revelry!

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