Russia 1917: "Backwards"?

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Tyrion
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Aug 30 2013 22:20
Russia 1917: "Backwards"?

I've often heard Russia described as being a very "backwards" country at the time of the revolution, primarily dominated by peasants with relatively underdeveloped capitalist production and a small proletarian population. I've heard this claim from everyone from university professors to elements in the Second International, but I'm curious about the truth of it.

Surely there was an enormous proletariat in absolute terms? Even if it wasn't the dominant element of the population, the Russian population was far larger than that of the other European countries and so I'm curious if the Russian proletariat really was so much smaller in actual numbers than that of the supposedly more developed capitalist states.

I'm also not sure how much of a factor the late development of capitalism in Russia could have been on this apparent backwardness. My understanding--not an especially learned one--is that the lateness of capitalist development in the empire was compensated for by heavy state guidance and extensive financing from Western European banks that allowed for Russia to have one of the largest economies in Europe at the time of World War I with a highly concentrated industrial proletariat.

Typically when I hear claims of Russian backwardness, it's used as an explanation for why there were such production shortages during the revolutionary period, especially with food. But wouldn't this have been the case for any country that was 1) largely cut off from external resources and 2) experiencing a devastating war that seriously inhibited production capacity?

Hoping that someone can shed some light on this alleged backwardness that often seems to be mentioned but rarely elaborated upon.

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FatherXmas
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Aug 31 2013 04:52

I suppose it depends on how you define "proletariat". Does this term include landless agrarian workers, domestic servants, ect.? I will compare Germany with Russia at the turn of the century.

For example, the 1907 German census defines 17,836,000 people as "workers" out of a total population of 62 million. This was double the number of workers from the 1882 census. "Worker" was defined as anyone employed in agriculture, industry, or commerce and transportation, but did not include domestic servants. Agrarian workers [Landarbeiter] make up 40 percent of this statistic, while only 8,593,000 could be classified as "industrial workers". It should also be kept in mind that industry in Germany was extremely geographically uneven. Saxony was an industrial heartland, whereas East Prussia had little development in this way. As well, at this point small and medium sized enterprises within the countryside or small cities still dominated the economic landscape.

As for Russia, here is what Abraham Ascher writes in his book The Revolution of 1905: Russia in Disarray:

Quote:
Reliable statistics on the size of the industrial proletariat at the turn of the century are hard to find. The government consistently used low figures to buttress its contention that the growth of the urban proletariat posed no threat to social and political stability. Many Marxists, most notably Lenin, vastly exaggerated the size of the proletariat by including categories of workers that Marx himself never considered capable of developing the 'proper degree of class consciousness.' One Soviet historian has shown that Lenin, basing himself on the census of 1897, came up with a startlingly large number by categorizing the following groups as belonging to the proletariat, in addition to the 2,792,000 workers employed in large industrial establishments: 3.5 million agricultural labourers, 2 million forest workers, and 2 million people who worked in their homes. Altogether, according to this calculation, there lived in Russia over 10 million proletarians and 'semi-proletarians' who, with their families, amounted to 64 million souls, 50.9 percent of the population. On the basis of these statistics, Soviet historians have claimed that by 1917 the preconditions for socialism did indeed exist in Russia. But Tugan-Baranovskii, a respected Marxist scholar, estimated in the late 1890s that the total number of industrial workers was about 3 million. Even this figure is probably high, but if it is reasonably accurate it would still mean that the proletariat constituted no more than 2.4 percent of the total population.

So while both Germany and Russia at the turn of the century could be classified as "backwards" in certain respects, I think it is fair to say that at least in terms of the percentage of "industrial workers" relative to the total population, Germany had a much higher figure. I imagine the same would hold true for other Western nations at the time.

Hope this helps.

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Aug 31 2013 18:56

And in response to your question about production shortages, I tend to agree that the devastation of the civil war and general social dislocation of the time is to blame. A massive exodus from the cities to the countryside took place during the civil war. This of course would have deprived the regime of the necessary manpower for industry. In addition wide sections of the peasantry were hostile to the Bolsheviks [i.e. the Makhnovists and other green movements], thus seriously disrupting rural-urban trade.

Dave B
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Aug 31 2013 19:21

The following is what Lenin himself said in an interesting article 1912;

Democracy and Narodism in China

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And it confronts not only Russia, but the whole of Asia, as will be seen from the platform of the provisional President of the Chinese Re public, particularly when this platform is compared with the revolutionary developments in Russia, Turkey, Persia and China. In very many and very essential respects, Russia is undoubtedly an Asian country and, what is more, one of the most benighted, medieval and shamefully backward of Asian countries.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1912/jul/15.htm

There is also an article by Lenin two years later explaining, clearly enough I hope, Russian ‘Marxists’ understanding of ‘Narodism’.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/jun/19.htm

[I am anti Leninist and anti Bolshevik by the way.]

Much is made of Russia’s large pre 1914 economy, such as it being the “5th largest” etc; which is probably an exaggeration.

Even so much of that was the feudal agricultural production of a very large country supplying products to western capitalism on its borders.

The per capita economic productivity/economic development of Russia was much lower.

Also many of the ‘industrial workers’ in pre 1917 Russia were seasonal peasant labour.

There were pockets of huge concentrations of capitalist production; big factories, mines and oil extraction etc etc.

However these were, taken a whole, exceptional and often the results of foreign investment.

Lurch
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Sep 1 2013 08:43

Not the first time this issue has been discussed on Libcom: won’t be the last.
This from the thread ‘Lenin acknowledging the intentional implementation of State Capitalism in the USSR’
http://libcom.org/forums/theory/lenin-acknowledging-intentional-implementation-state-capitalism-ussr-23032011?page=3

Crud wrote:

Quote:
“The working class in Russia was pale in comparison to the agricultural workers, I wouldn't say they had a huge industrial economy, no way.”

Lurch replied:

Quote:
“So the rising series of strikes on the home front and mutinies on the battlefield (we’re talking many European countries here, not just Russia) found an initial expression in a revolution in a country where capitalism had been late developing and the working class was still a small minority of the population. And?

“In Russia in 1914, there were ‘officially’ only 2,900,000 industrial workers (and millions of agricultural workers – often confused with ‘the peasantry’ from which they had emerged after decades under capitalist social relations).

“Nonetheless, this combative urban proletariat (the number of strikes rose from 892 in 1908 to 3,574 in 1914) was concentrated in some of the most modern factories and facilities in the world (built courtesy of international finance – particularly from France which in 1906 ‘loaned’ the Tsarist state 2,250 million francs – ‘the largest loan yet made in the history of mankind’ according to the then Russian Prime Minister).

“Nearly 50% of these workers toiled in factories of over 1000 employees. With over 40,000 workers, Putilov was the biggest factory in the world. In a backward country (nonetheless ranked 5th in the world in terms of output in 1917), workers operated the essential nerve centres: coal ,oil and textile production, transport (the trans-Siberian railway, completed in 1905, gave Russia more rail-miles in any other country bar the US – Trotsky got his figures wrong on this aspect) and communication (the telegraph and telephone companies; the press and print operations). As Marxism has long pointed out, it’s not only the consciousness and organisation of the workers that gives them their potential power – it’s their central place in the process of capitalist production.

“This theory of the revolutionary role of the proletariat that was Marxism – the first translation of Das Capital was into Russian – was already well-established in the country (as also was a strong anarchist tradition). It produced a minority social democratic party which, especially after 1903, had as its main focus the spreading of this theory away from the students and intellectuals amongst whom it had first found favour directly into the ranks of the growing working class itself.

“The self-organisation of the workers that expressed itself in the formation of workers, soldiers and sailors councils (Soviets) both in 1905 and 1917 drew on centuries of rural self government (albeit within the framework of an absolutist state) - the Mir (see posts above) from which the workers had only recently emerged. Under crumbling Tsarist absolutism, with a feeble, subservient bourgeoisie, there was little bourgeois democratic mystification – unions had been banned until 1906 and there was no tradition of parliamentary democracy. Despite their numerical weakness, the class consciousness of the Russian proletarians was not overly burdened with decades of reformist illusions. This in no way implies that workers didn’t struggle to improve their existence under capitalism – as we’ve seen above, there was a rising curve of defensive yet political strikes. Yet the fact that between 1908 and 1914 there was roughly 40% inflation while wages only rose 8% meant that every strike not only brought workers directly up against the state, but that a complete overturning of the existing order increasingly presented itself as the only solution to their predicament. Then there were the terrible privations of the 1914 war...

“In short, whatever label you care to put on it (proletarian, bourgeois, peasant or any mixture) the numerical weakness of the working class in Russia did not prevent it from being the main lever of revolution in Russia in 1917, or the fact that its seizure of power was a source of immense inspiration of workers around the world.

“If some of the backward specificities of Russia actually aided a seizure of power by the Soviets and the Bolshevik Party in tandem, the fundamental conditions which produced this phenomenon existed in every major metropole on the planet, as the following years of international, often insurrectionary struggles showed.....”

slothjabber
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Sep 1 2013 12:13
Dave B wrote:
The following is what Lenin himself said in an interesting article 1912...
[I am anti Leninist and anti Bolshevik by the way.]...

And yet you always trot this quote out to prove the truth of your own (or indeed Stalin's) view of 'underdeveloped Russia'. For someone who is 'anti-Leninist' you sure like to rely on him for mistaken information.

No country, individually, is ever 'ripe for socialism'. Even the most 'forward'. Therefore, 'backwardness' doesn't figure, because no socialist thinks that socialism in one country is possible. Why do you act like you think it is?

Dave B wrote:
...Much is made of Russia’s large pre 1914 economy, such as it being the “5th largest” etc; which is probably an exaggeration...

Back that up, please. I may be mistaken in claiming over many years that Russia's was the 5th largest economy in 1913, but I'm not exaggerating. As far as I am concerned, claims that I'm 'exaggerating' (because I'm assuming you mean me, the only person I've seen on LibCom claim that it was the 5th biggest, in many of these discussions over the years, sometimes with you) are tantamount to saying that I'm deliberately saying something I know not to be true. So back up that accusation, or withdraw it.

Dave B wrote:
...
There were pockets of huge concentrations of capitalist production; big factories, mines and oil extraction etc etc...

Yes indeed. Since the 1880s the Russian state had sponsored a massive investment programme in heavy industry especially. This had produced the largest factories in the world, some of the most modern factories in the world, and a huge proletariat - in a truly vast country certainly.

Dave B wrote:
...However these were, taken a whole, exceptional and often the results of foreign investment.

And the significance of this is...? Do workers who work for foreign-owned companies not count as the proletariat?

The significance is that there wasn't a developed Russian bourgeoisie, not that there wasn't a developed Russian proletariat. And I'd think that only the SPGB would see the lack of a homegrown bourgeoisie as problematic (given that it leads to a lack of a liberal-democratic tradition).

Dave B
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Sep 1 2013 17:03

The pre 1917 Bolsheviks including Lenin and Stalin took the standard or orthodox Marxist position concerning future developments in Russia.

Not all self described ‘socialists’ ‘fully’ subscribed to that viewpoint eg the narodnik Socialist Revolutionaries, the ‘Anarchists’ and the eccentric Trotsky permanent revolution people.

The Standard Marxist view was not just a negative view about socialism not being possible in one country, ie Russia, or not.

It was a view on what must inevitably happen to Feudal Russia after the fall of the Tsar and what ‘Marxists’ should do about it.

The view was that capitalism must replace feudalism and the optimum political form it should take, and that should be worked for by ‘Marxists’, was a liberal bourgeois democracy.

Like they had in Switzerland for example where Marxists and revolutionaries in general were free to agitate for socialism etc.

Or in other words a democratically elected constituent exactly like the one the Bolsheviks shut down in January 1918.

In fact Lenin supported the convocation of the constituent assembly throughout most of 1917 and the Bolsheviks, through Trotsky, justified the October coup as necessary to guarantee the election of the constituent assembly.

The Anarchists never subscribed to the bourgeois democratic/capitalist revolution theory at all.

Nor did the Socialist Revolutionaries or SR’s who had a range of ‘vague and hazy ideas’; some of which involved the possibility of some kind of agrarian based communism (in one country).

You could argue that Trotsky et al with their eccentric and opaque ‘permanent revolution theory’ took neither one or the other position.

Few people at the time took Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory seriously, nor did Lenin;

Quote:
They evade these specific issues by advancing pseudo-intellectual, and in fact utterly meaningless, arguments about a "permanent revolution", about “introducing” socialism, and other nonsense.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/jun/17.htm

In fact in middle of 1917 another heretical position appeared in the Bolsheviks who wanted to “introduce” the lower phase of communism in Russia, as one country.

And I think in 1917 Russia there was a cornucopia of self described ‘socialists’ who did not subscribe to the standard Marxist model; or Trotsky’s.

The idea that socialists, and even Marxist socialists, at the time of the collapse of the Tsarist regime might loose their heads and attempt to introduce some kind of socialism in Russia was anticipated in 1905 by Lenin (as a fairly orthodox 2nd international Marxist).

Who said somewhat prophetically.

Quote:
If Social-Democracy sought to make the socialist revolution its immediate aim, it would assuredly discredit itself. It is precisely such vague and hazy ideas of our “Socialists—Revolutionaries” that Social-Democracy has always combated.

For this reason Social-Democracy has constantly stressed the bourgeois nature of the impending revolution in Russia and insisted on a clear line of demarcation between the democratic minimum programme and the socialist maximum programme.

Some Social-Democrats, who are inclined to yield to spontaneity, might forget all this in time of revolution, but not the Party as a whole. The adherents of this erroneous view make an idol of spontaneity in their belief that the march of events will compel the Social-Democratic Party in such a position to set about achieving the socialist revolution, despite itself.”

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/apr/12b.htm

I have seen the claim that “Russia” was the 5th largest economy circa 1917 in several places and wasn’t aware that slothjabber had said it.

I would like to know were it comes from and which countries were 6th and 7th for instance.

There is a list of ‘countries’ by population for 1900 below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_in_1900

There was less of a homegrown capitalist property owning bourgeoisie in Russia.

However there was enough of a bourgeois intelligentsia ie the Bolsheviks, to step in and appropriate the historical role and property of the capitalist bourgeoisie by introducing (state) capitalism for themselves; without the inconvenient liberal democracy.

The form that the permanent revolution took for Trotsky presumably.

“The state in this society is not ruled by the bourgeoisie, but by the Bolsheviks. We refuse to understand that when we say “state” we mean ourselves, the Bolsheviks, the vanguard of the working class. State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix. This state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state is the Bolsheviks, the advanced section of the workers, the vanguard. We are the state.”

eg

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/mar/27.htm

slothjabber
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Sep 1 2013 19:43
Dave B wrote:
...
I have seen the claim that “Russia” was the 5th largest economy circa 1917 in several places and wasn’t aware that slothjabber had said it...

Really?

Page 3 of the thread Lurch linked to above, in the final paragraph of a post I actually direct at you (saying that I agree with something you've said, which you then follow with several more posts. Of course, you may not have read other contributors' posts, but it does then make it difficult to respond to them):

http://libcom.org/forums/theory/lenin-acknowledging-intentional-implementation-state-capitalism-ussr-23032011?page=2#comment-422910

I'm sure that I have claimed it elsewhere on LibCom. But I'm unable to use the search function effectively enough to find it. In fact I've not found any other references to it at all (I can't even call up the post above using the search function).

Dave B
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Sep 1 2013 20:19

the Lurch link came after I had said;

Much is made of Russia’s large pre 1914 economy, such as it being the “5th largest” etc; which is probably an exaggeration

I did open the Lurch link afterwards but just glanced thro it for a couple of seconds, without even registering you had posted on it.

Actually I had written something.like ............I wasn't aware at the time that ....

but thought it wasn't necessary.

Do you really think I originally posted it, before the Lurch link, to have a go at you in particular?

This is absurd

Dave B
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Sep 1 2013 20:38

there is some data on the relative size of economies etc below, but at least the author acknowledges the questionable and uncertain way this kind of data has to be compiled.

that has China as the 2nd largest economy and ahead of Germany!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP)

But at least Former Russia? is 4th

Dave B
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Sep 1 2013 20:44

this on is more interesting;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

Dave B
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Sep 1 2013 20:54

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

Dave B
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Sep 1 2013 20:59

google the wiki entry for.

List of regions by past GDP (PPP) per capita

slothjabber
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Sep 1 2013 21:26
Dave B wrote:
the Lurch link came after I had said;

Much is made of Russia’s large pre 1914 economy, such as it being the “5th largest” etc; which is probably an exaggeration

I did open the Lurch link afterwards but just glanced thro it for a couple of seconds, without even registering you had posted on it.

Actually I had written something.like ............I wasn't aware at the time that ....

but thought it wasn't necessary.

Do you really think I originally posted it, before the Lurch link, to have a go at you in particular?

This is absurd

On the original thread, you and I had a sustained discussion about various aspects about the revolution in Russia. On that thread I, some 29 months ago, made the claim that Russia was the 5th largest economy in the world in 1913. You then posted several more posts in the thread. I was merely asking if you had read the other contributions on the original thread. If you had, then that's one source of the claim that the Russian economy was the 5th largest in 1913. Cleishbotham of course in the same thread claims it was the 6th largest.

If you can't remember that it was me that posted it, and think it 'absurd' that I should think you can remember, well, hard luck, I do remember claiming it, and I do remember arguing with you about it 2 years ago, and it isn't my fault if you don't.

Dave B
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Sep 1 2013 22:16

Well there are obviously lies, damned lies and statistics.

What matters as regards economic development and the possibility of socialism, Vis-à-vis Marxism, is the productivity of labour best indicated as GDP per capita.

Russia in 1913 comes near the bottom of the table; below the world average and only above the likes of China, India and Africa.

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FatherXmas
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Sep 2 2013 01:48

Maybe I am looking at the incorrect table but how does Russia come near the bottom in 1913? Ohhhh!

The link Dave B posted didn't doesn't work properly. The last part of it is not hyperlinked. May cause some confusion, as in my case wink

Dave B you are indeed correct. While Russia (and China) in terms of absolute GDP in 1913 look like powerhouses, when tempered by the per capita context their performance is less than impressive.

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Entdinglichung
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Sep 2 2013 10:04
FatherXmas wrote:
For example, the 1907 German census defines 17,836,000 people as "workers" out of a total population of 62 million. This was double the number of workers from the 1882 census. "Worker" was defined as anyone employed in agriculture, industry, or commerce and transportation, but did not include domestic servants. Agrarian workers [Landarbeiter] make up 40 percent of this statistic, while only 8,593,000 could be classified as "industrial workers". It should also be kept in mind that industry in Germany was extremely geographically uneven. Saxony was an industrial heartland, whereas East Prussia had little development in this way. As well, at this point small and medium sized enterprises within the countryside or small cities still dominated the economic landscape.

especially East Prussia (and also the other Eastern provinces of Prussia) is an interesting topic, despite being a predominantly agrarian region, it was from the mid-18th century pretty much part of an international division of labour by producing grain and other agrarian products on the large estates for an international market, especially "feeding" the industrial revolution in Britain with cheap grain, the Prussian nobility in a way therefore being both feudal agrarians and mercantile capitalists (leaving also far less room for a genuine mercantile bourgeoisie to evolve in the ports like Koenigsberg and Danzig, some speak in the case of Prussia of an aristocratic and bureaucratric "Ersatz Bourgeoisie"). The serfs who had been legally "liberated" between 1806-1815 and the sub-peasantry evolved into an agrarian proletariat which was (despite its crucial position for the European economy and unlike e.g. 20th century banana or coffee workers in South America) never able to break free from the hegemony of the landholders up to the end of the "East Prussian economy" in 1945. Unlike in Denmark, supplying the industrial revolution with food did in the case of Prussia not to a specialized kind of industrialization, centered on a food industry

Mark.
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Sep 2 2013 09:59
FatherXmas wrote:
While Russia (and China) in terms of absolute GDP in 1913 look like powerhouses, when tempered by the per capita context their performance is less than impressive.

'Russia' in 1917 was an imperial power that included much of central Asia together with Siberia and the Caucasus. To compare like with like would it be more realistic to compare statistics and GDP figures with say the British Empire as a whole, or Germany or France plus colonies?

Dave B
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Sep 2 2013 18:09

I am fairly sure I have read this stuff about Russia having the 5th largest economy circa 1914 or whatever in some book(s) and standard texts on the Russian revolution.

I have a vague recollection it may have even been in Pipes book.

Blakes baby has used it on Revleft as well.

http://www.revleft.com/vb/has-country-ever-t179362/index4.html?s=6c45a86...

There is some addition information below that attributes a considerable amount of the GNP to oil extraction which if even partially true may have squewed the statistics even further, thus.

Quote:
Czar Nicholas II (May 18, 1868 - July 16, 1918) was the last Russian Czar. He ruled from 1894 to 1917, a total of 23 years. During his rule in 1900, Russia had the 5th largest economy in the world because it produced more oil than any other nation. Some of its factories were the largest in the world, though 80% of the population were still living in extremely poor conditions, and 50% of the population were illiterate (Gale, 2003).

http://kittychow-animalfarm.weebly.com/czar-nicholas-ii.html

I find that hard to believe, but who knows?

In fact Rockerfeller’s Standard Oil company had a cosy relationship with the Bolshevik regime in the early days re oil extraction franchises and Lenin’s ‘clear cut state capitalism’.

I know mineral extraction is still ‘capitalism’ but you might be would be wary of judging the level of capitalist economic development and industrial power of feudal Gulf states by their GNP, or even GNP per capita.

That is covered by Karl’s ‘differential ground rent theory’.

Timber was also a major Russia export and much of that was produced under the even more ‘primitive’ Russian ‘Mir’ artel system.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1874/refugee-literature/ch05....

Even the data that we are looking at now I think needs to be looked at conditionally; as we seem to be doing.

The debate on ‘socialism in one country’ only really kicked off post 1925 and that was orientated around ‘Socialism in one backward country/empire’ ie ‘Russia’.

As opposed to socialism in one economically advanced industrial country or countries.

Which is somewhat different.

There was another furious and hot ‘separate’ debate in the 1870’s about whether the “alleged” primitive and already essentially communist Russian ‘Mir’ and ‘Artel’ system could be directly absorbed into an impending advanced western socialist revolution.

slothjabber
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Sep 2 2013 21:48
Dave B wrote:
Well there are obviously lies, damned lies and statistics.

What matters as regards economic development and the possibility of socialism, Vis-à-vis Marxism, is the productivity of labour best indicated as GDP per capita.

Russia in 1913 comes near the bottom of the table; below the world average and only above the likes of China, India and Africa.

Which is only relevant if you believe in 'socialism in one country Something that I said in the post 2 years ago, which ajjohnstone was quick to clarify isn't SPGB policy, but here you re bringing it up again.

I'll go back to the questions I asked you then Dave B, that you never answered:

1 - was world socialism a possibility in the early 20th century Dave B, or was the SPGB wrong to form in 1904 on that basis?

2 - if world socialism was a possibility in the early 20th century then what does the development of Russia have to do with it?

3 - as Russia was more developed than the world as a whole, why does the fact that it had more peasants than (say) Germany have any relevance?

Dave B wrote:
I am fairly sure I have read this stuff about Russia having the 5th largest economy circa 1914 or whatever in some book(s) and standard texts on the Russian revolution.

I have a vague recollection it may have even been in Pipes book.

Blakes baby has used it on Revleft as well.

http://www.revleft.com/vb/has-country-ever-t179362/index4.html?s=6c45a86......

Gosh, two Luxemburg-admiring Left Comms give the same statistic on different forums. Or possibly, one Luxemburg-admiring Left Comm with different users names on different forums gives the same statistic.

However, I too am pretty sure I read it in some standard texts on the revolution in Russia too. It's not the sort of thing I just make up; but I don't have the info to hand.

slothjabber
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Sep 2 2013 21:47

Ah, nuts, double post.

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FatherXmas
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Sep 2 2013 22:54

Perhaps I am wrong in assuming this, but I would imagine that the GDP per capita figures given by Maddison and Bairoch for 1913 would have included the mother countries plus their territories. In Bairoch's table at least it specifies "Russia/USSR" which means the figure would have included countries now independent [e.g. Ukraine which would have contributed a large value to industrial production of the Russian Empire].

Even if the figures for the United Kingdom, Germany and France don't include their colonies, wouldn't their inclusion into the figures only further highlight Russia's comparative economic weakness?

There is no doubt that there were massive industrial projects in Russia and even a certain degree of proletarian culture in the years leading up the revolution. But such industry was heavily geographically concentrated. The rest of the country (or "empire") was overwhelmingly agrarian and hence its social consciousness was formed by a specifically agrarian peasant perspective. In addition, many "industrial workers" were new arrivals from the the countryside, so in terms of class consciousness, I think it would be hard to argue they self-identified as "proletarians" in the traditional Marxist sense.

That being said this does not mean Russia was not ripe for a socialist revolution. One just has to look at perspectives on revolution outside Marxist strictures. As Dave B mentioned the Socialist-Revolutionaries [a peasant party and the most popular in the empire] and the anarchists [who became quite popular amongst the peasantry in southern Ukraine and areas of Siberia] both felt revolution was possible and desirable, regardless of Russia's economic performance according to Marxist standards. So from outside an orthodox Marxist perspective, yes, what does it matter if Russia had more peasants in absolute terms than Germany or any other country?

Ablokeimet
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Sep 3 2013 13:03
Dave B wrote:
In fact Lenin supported the convocation of the constituent assembly throughout most of 1917 and the Bolsheviks, through Trotsky, justified the October coup as necessary to guarantee the election of the constituent assembly.

Can we dispense with the slander that the October Revolution was a "coup"? The storming of the Winter Palace was merely the crowing act of Gustav Landauer's brilliant definition of a revolution:

“The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another."

By building the Soviets, and by the business they took to them, the working class of Russia withdrew from subservience to the State and "contracted other relationships". The role of the Soviets in defeating the Kornilov Coup (now that was a real coup, if unsuccessful), as contrasted with the helplessness of the Provisional Government in defending itself, had sealed the situation. The October Revolution would have occurred earlier if it wasn't for the fact that the workers of Petrograd were waiting for the rest of the country to come to the same realisation that they already had. The Revolution's superficial resemblance to a coup was because the Provisional Government had no support left in Petrograd and was just a shell. The "official" transfer of power therefore happened with no great fuss there.

Dave B
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Sep 3 2013 21:30

My opinion is that “world” socialism was not a possibility in the early 20th century.

But I can respect alternative opinions.

I don’t want to turn this into a SPGB thing; but we have a degree of latitude in thinking.

(Alan and myself are on the ‘anarchist’ wing of the party I think; but even we don’t agree on everything)

In the early 20th century it was more a matter I think about whether or not socialism was a possibility in expanded ‘transnational’ geographical regions; obviously encompassing economically advanced ‘countries’.

I don’t think it was a noisy or conspicuous debate at the time.

To have socialism the basic things you need is;

a certain level ‘consciousness’ that according ‘Marxist’ theory can only develop in the mass/majority of the homogenous dispossessed (of means of production) ie the working class.

Thus according to the theory, the workers would all be in same economic position.

[Part of Karl’s theory was that as capitalism developed all workers would tend to earn the same amount of money.

You could argue that that hasn’t really happened, or not as a tendency- another debate]

Counterposed to that was the reactionary of as yet the un-dispossessed ‘petty bourgeois’ peasants artisans and simple commodity producers.

-----------------

They ‘are’ people who essentially want be self employed and run there own little business, make, sell and trade their own products; in inevitable economic competition with each other.

We all know them; whether it is running a small restaurant, bar, bed and breakfast or garage fixing cars.

Which are the kind of relatively ‘low capital intensive, or not, outlets for this kind of economic activity.

Perhaps there is a little bit of the ‘Proudhonists’ in all of us.

That can ‘tend’ to lead to an egotistical independent, and individualist, I am alright jack to hell with everybody else.

It doesn’t have to be like that, and I think real contemporary examples can be instructive.

Thus we have an economically defined ‘peasant’ in Manchester branch who runs, or ran, a small farm as a ‘business’.

I also have a friend whose father owned, as the head of the family, 10 acres of good land in the Punjab and came over here in the early 1960’s to earn ‘real’ money to support it.

[The family enterprise sent him to university which meant that he was the prime candidate to earn remittance money in Britain.]

He was actually also in the Indian communist party.

The cultural ‘peasant’ fixation in the typical ‘Indian family’, and their big earning IT leftwingish descendents, over the importance of owning, holding onto and supporting the family farm, even as an economic black hole, is quite amazing.

I think understanding 1st , and 2nd generation modern ‘petty bourgeois’ peasants helps to understand the Russian situation.

It is more instructive to talk to them, and for example people working in Manchester curry houses, than reading books about it.

Karl and Kautsky I think talked about it somewhere about how peasants would cling onto their land like grim death rather than become totally rootless wage slaves.

The second or third theoretical aspect of socialist wage labour inducing socialist consciousness is the idea of the inherent co-operative nature of factory production and people working together to achieve an objective.

Rather than competitive self-owned farms etc.

But I suppose you have to have worked in a factory to really appreciate that.

Our modern human resources department seem to understand that and have taken on much of that theory.

There was a chapter on that in volume one.

But the other basic requirement for socialism require is not just consciousness, or a desire and commitment;

But a technological ability and level of economic development to supply an abundance.

If the level of consciousness was high and abundance low then people would freely consume and volunteer work responsibly to prevent the system collapsing.

If economic development was high enough so that if everybody worked for 5 hours a week voluntarily and there was enough to go around without decadent consumption.

Then even the most self centered, but sincere, egotistical git can be persuaded to go along with it in principal.

In the theory; consciousness and technological development ie the factory system are supposed to move conveniently in tandem.

Whilst reactionary ‘petty bourgeois production’ hits the dust in its inability to compete with big capitalism.

Agriculture being probably one of the last economic spheres that big capital turns it attention to.

Thinking about it purely hypothetically.

If some geographical regions are going to go for ‘world’ socialism it is going to have to able to be economically ‘independent’ and self sustaining.

Or be able to keep out exogenous economic tourists shopping in the socialist free community stores and healthcare system.

And be able to resist wholesale raiding Ghengis Khan capitalist nations etc.

The US or North America ‘may’ have been able to do that in 1913; with the socialist consciousness.

As may have the Russian empire if it had had the same level of economic development, productivity and consciousness.

But I think today all the economies of the world are so integrated in the global village that narrow regional ‘world’ socialism is off the agenda.

But what are we going to do?

Wait for the Kalahri bushmen, the Bedouins and everybody in all ‘countries’ to be proletarianised before we can have socialism?

Even though I don’t believe that;

“Socialism was a possibility in the early 20th century”

I will attempt answer the anarchist and Nardodnik question as to why it failed in Russia.

The peasants as egotistical conservative and ‘reactionary’ individuals were not interested in the grander long term social historical picture of producing surplus agricultural products to fund the ‘primitive accumulation’ of productive capital.

These ‘Proudhonist’ orientated simple commodity producers, which is a ‘starting point of capitalism’, might for instance produce surplus agricultural products for themselves, by extending their own working day, to purchase an extra and more productive plough horse for themselves and to work for themselves etc.

Initially admittedly they would abhor employing wage slaves as much as they would like to be one themselves.

It might start as an act of charity providing an income for a failed fellow lazy peasant down on his luck perhaps.

But they would be buggered, as individualists, before they would have their hard earned productivity enhancing surplus ‘collectivised’ as social property, the benefits of which could be shared by all.

----------------

That was an attempt to honestly represent the ‘Marxist’ position as I understand it; as a human nature moralists I have personal reservations on it particularly when it comes to some strands of ‘Anarchist thought’.

There was a book written in around 1870 on, as it was thought primitive communist Russian Mir system.

The Marxist paradigm was that humanity went from primitive communism to feudalism/ slavery/ serfdom and then to capitalism and then back again to communist consciousness etc.

So the argument went that these Mir people were already congenital communist and in fact had an equal level of communist consciousness to the most advanced industrial workers and could even teach these infantile communists emerging out the egregious capitalism a thing or to.

Just like we can look at some of the remnants of these primitive communists societies still in existence with watery eyed admiration.

Some ‘slavophiles’ , from a range of political positions claimed that this was a genetic or at least ‘cultural’ heritage and predisposition of the Russians in general etc.

And that the evils of capitalism was a ‘cultural’ invention and desease of the ‘Europeans’.

You can see shadows of that idea today I think.

‘Marxists’ saw it as an inevitable, scientifically explicable, ‘social’ materialist progression.

slothjabber
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Sep 3 2013 22:23

So, the foundation of the SPGB in 1904 was a mistake, Dave B?

And you think that 'regional' socialism is possible, if not 'national' socialism?

Difficult to see what makes you the 'Anarchist' wing of the party, however, as most of the Anarchists I know think that socialism has been possible since the 1600s at the latest.

FatherXmas wrote:
Perhaps I am wrong in assuming this, but I would imagine that the GDP per capita figures given by Maddison and Bairoch for 1913 would have included the mother countries plus their territories. In Bairoch's table at least it specifies "Russia/USSR" which means the figure would have included countries now independent [e.g. Ukraine which would have contributed a large value to industrial production of the Russian Empire].

Even if the figures for the United Kingdom, Germany and France don't include their colonies, wouldn't their inclusion into the figures only further highlight Russia's comparative economic weakness?
...

No, I think the opposite. The Russian Empire was contiguous. It's all included together. Russia's colonies are also included; Britain's are not. So including the colonies (less developed than Britain) in Britain's total would make Britain look more like Russia by 'bringing down' the relative levels.

But the fact remains that the Russia Empire was more developed industrially, per capita, than the world average. Russia was therefore more 'ripe' (developed that is) than most of the rest of the world.

Dave B
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Sep 3 2013 22:37

I don’t mind confessing to being an ‘idealist’.

We have too many old socialists, not me really, who know damn well they will never see their dream.

I dare you poke fun at them.

‘Regional’ socialism was maybe hypothetically possible, 100 years ago, but it is a daft argument now I think.

Materialists shouldn’t even be limiting their analysis to ‘countries’ but to perhaps to only geographical economic regions that reflect economic development from a ‘Marxist’ perspective.

Communism in fact it operated successfully and very locally in North America, due to the particular general economic conditions,; with the bonkers “shakers”.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/10/15.htm

But they were hardly regressive misogynists Luddites either.

They originated from around Manchester, as did our ‘Whinstanley’.

FatherXmas's picture
FatherXmas
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Sep 4 2013 01:56
Quote:
No, I think the opposite. The Russian Empire was contiguous. It's all included together. Russia's colonies are also included; Britain's are not. So including the colonies (less developed than Britain) in Britain's total would make Britain look more like Russia by 'bringing down' the relative levels.

I stand corrected. I found Angus Maddison's book "The World Economy: Historical Statistics" on google books from which it is clear that the colonies are not included for Britain, Germany or France's figures. I see the logic now of how the inclusion of large undeveloped regions could bring down their stats to a level similar to Russia. It would be interesting to see such inclusive stats if they exist.

Russia was certainly more "ripe" when compared to "the rest of the world", which was highly undeveloped in this period. But was Russia ripe according to orthodox Marxist theories? Even if it is conceded that Russia contained areas of concentrated industry, the issue of consciousness that Dave B brings up conjures many problems for Russia. The civil war is a case in point, which was often as much of a clash between the Red and White armies as it was a struggle between the peasantry and urban populations. The peasantry undoubtedly comprised a majority of the population who initially put their support behind the SRs [as was confirmed in the elections to the Constituent Assembly]. The peasantry then served as the backbone of the numerous green armies [not to mention the Makhnovists and various nationalist armies] who, while willing to make compromises with the Bolsheviks at times, were generally hostile to the Party. Unless a vanguardist position is adopted, doesn't this situation show that the necessary consciousness for a Marxist socialist revolution was not present in Russia as a whole. This is not to say it wasn't present in certain concentrated areas but for the revolution to truly succeed don't we need to look at class consciousness throughout the empire as a whole?

Mark.
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Sep 4 2013 10:42

This is slightly off at a tangent, but the Bolsheviks' elimination of an independent Azerbaijan seems worth a mention when considering the question of Russia as an imperial power and socialism in one empire.

Quote:

By March 1920, it was obvious that Soviet Russia would attack Baku. Vladimir Lenin said that the invasion was justified by the fact that Soviet Russia could not survive without Baku oil.[26][27] According to the prevailing opinion in Moscow, Russian Bolsheviks were to assist the Baku proletariat in overthrowing the "counter-revolutionary nationalists."

After a major political crisis, the Fifth Cabinet of Ministers of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic resigned on April 1, 1920. On April 25, 1920, the Russian XI Red Army invaded Azerbaijan, entering Baku on April 27. They demanded the dissolution of the Azerbaijani Parliament (Majlis) and set up their own Bolshevik government headed by Nariman Narimanov…

In the end, "the Azeris did not surrender their brief independence of 1918-20 quickly or easily. As many as 20,000 died resisting what was effectively a Russian reconquest."[31]…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azerbaijan_Democratic_Republic

Quote:

In 1898, the Russian oil industry exceeded the U.S. oil production level. At that time, approximately 8 million tons were being produced (160,000 barrels (25,000 m3) of oil per day). By 1901, Baku produced more than half of the world's oil (11 million tons or 212,000 barrels (33,700 m3) of oil per day), and 55 percent of all Russian oil...

Several oil crises jolted Russia around 1903, when constant strikes, violence and ethnic strife during Russian Revolution of 1905 led to fall in the oil production from the peak of 212,000 bbl/d (33,700 m3/d). The relative calm of the early 1910s was disrupted by World War I, when production of oil steadily decreased to reach the lowest level of just 65,000 bbl/d (10,300 m3/d) by 1918 and then dropped even more catastrophically by 1920. As a result of civil unrest no oil export was possible, oil storage facilities were damaged and wells were idle. The government of Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was unable to restore the damage done to the oil industry during its time in office between 1918 and 1920.

Since 1918, more 5 mln ton of oil accumulated in Azerbaijan. After the occupation of Azerbaijan by Bolsheviks, all oil supplies were directed to Russia. All oil assets in the country were nationalized and Azneft State company was formed...

Between 1939 and 1940, when the Soviet Union was supplying oil to Nazi Germany, Britain and France planned a major strategic bombing offensive called Operation Pike to destroy the oil production facilities in Baku.

During that first year of the war, Azerbaijan produced 25.4 million tons of oil — a record...

Hitler was determined to capture the oil fields of the Caucasus, in particular Baku, as it would provide much needed oil-supplies for the German military which was suffering from blockades. The 1942 German offensive codenamed Case Blue saw a determined attempt to seize the oil fields in a large scale advance into the area. The plan was to attack Baku on September 25, 1942. Anticipating the upcoming victory, Hitler's generals presented him a cake of the region, where piece showing Baku was given to Hitler.[11] But the Axis forces were surrounded and eventually defeated at Stalingrad forcing a retreat from the region...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_industry_in_Azerbaijan

So, oil and imperialism then.

As for being "backwards" surely controlling the centre of world oil production counts for something.

slothjabber
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Sep 4 2013 22:42
FatherXmas wrote:
...
Russia was certainly more "ripe" when compared to "the rest of the world", which was highly undeveloped in this period. But was Russia ripe according to orthodox Marxist theories? Even if it is conceded that Russia contained areas of concentrated industry, the issue of consciousness that Dave B brings up conjures many problems for Russia. The civil war is a case in point, which was often as much of a clash between the Red and White armies as it was a struggle between the peasantry and urban populations. The peasantry undoubtedly comprised a majority of the population who initially put their support behind the SRs [as was confirmed in the elections to the Constituent Assembly]. The peasantry then served as the backbone of the numerous green armies [not to mention the Makhnovists and various nationalist armies] who, while willing to make compromises with the Bolsheviks at times, were generally hostile to the Party. Unless a vanguardist position is adopted, doesn't this situation show that the necessary consciousness for a Marxist socialist revolution was not present in Russia as a whole. This is not to say it wasn't present in certain concentrated areas but for the revolution to truly succeed don't we need to look at class consciousness throughout the empire as a whole?

No, for the revolution to truly succeed we need to look at the development of the world proletariat and world capitalism. The situation in Russia itself is only important in so far that you think socialism can be built in Russia itself.

I don't believe in national socialism, or indeed regional socialism. Socialism, I hold, will be worldwide, and it could (because I agree with the SPGB, and not Dave B) have been established (in so far as capitalism had developed to a point where socialism had become a material possibility) a century ago. The state of development in Russia, or Germany, or Britain, or the USA, or any particular country, is pretty much irrelevant to that.

Ablokeimet
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Sep 5 2013 14:08
slothjabber wrote:
No, for the revolution to truly succeed we need to look at the development of the world proletariat and world capitalism. The situation in Russia itself is only important in so far that you think socialism can be built in Russia itself.

I don't believe in national socialism, or indeed regional socialism. Socialism, I hold, will be worldwide, and it could (because I agree with the SPGB, and not Dave B) have been established (in so far as capitalism had developed to a point where socialism had become a material possibility) a century ago. The state of development in Russia, or Germany, or Britain, or the USA, or any particular country, is pretty much irrelevant to that.

In looking at the Russian Revolution, the key point to keep in mind is that the Bolsheviks believed that Europe was ready for communism and it was this criterion that they used to argue for a proletarian revolution in October 1917. I haven't seen any literature that indicates that any of the political actors at the time used the readiness (or lack thereof) of the world as a whole for communism as a criterion for deciding whether to overthrow capitalism. Personally, I think that the Bolsheviks only turned their theoretical attention to the colonial countries after the October Revolution.

Further, it should be noted that, when the Comintern started putting emphasis on the colonial countries, its orientation was towards building an anti-colonial struggle, rather than an anti-capitalist one. This implies that the Comintern believed that the colonial countries were not ready for communism. I don't claim to be an expert on the Comintern, though, and I stand to be corrected by someone with greater knowledge.

It is now a moot point as to whether the world as a whole was ready for communism in 1917. For certain, it is today.

Dave B
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Sep 5 2013 18:32

Thanks for that post Ablokeimet.

It is now a moot point as to whether the world as a whole was ready for communism in 1917.

And yet more ‘dead Russian’ society stuff.

But I think the subject matter has value in understanding standard Marxist theory, and Anarchist theory for that matter.

And even proto Maoism in the form of our agrarian peasant Narodniks or Narodism; which means populist and populism I think.

If we believed that ‘world socialism’ was possible in 1913; as essentially encompassing the entire world population then we would have believe for instance that the level of productivity of labour and capitalist development in Mexico at the time was also sufficient for socialism.

We would also have to reject the Marxist thesis (and accept the Anarchist thesis- nothing wrong with that for the moment) that socialist consciousness develops out of the economic position that the wage labour working class find themselves in.

[As most of the world population in 1913 were not wage labourers; or at imminent hazard of becoming them.]

Old ‘Marxism’, with its economic base and super-structural ideology etc, doesn’t subscribe to the ‘populist materialism’ idea of communism being a good idea and a matter of ‘will’; that just requires clever and convincing intellectuals to instill it into the “corrupted and degraded’ labouring masses, with their accompanying ‘vices’; who even in capitalism can only develop ‘trade union consciousness’.

eg;

Quote:
Schoolboy stupidity! A radical social revolution depends on certain definite historical conditions of economic development as its precondition. It is also only possible where with capitalist production the industrial proletariat occupies at least an important position among the mass of the people. ……………. But here Mr Bakunin's innermost thoughts emerge. He understands absolutely nothing about the social revolution, only its political phrases. Its economic conditions do not exist for him. As all hitherto existing economic forms, developed or undeveloped, involve the enslavement of the worker (whether in the form of wage-labourer, peasant etc.), he believes that a radical revolution is possible in all such forms alike. Still more! He wants the European social revolution, premised on the economic basis of capitalist production, to take place at the level of the Russian or Slavic agricultural and pastoral peoples, not to surpass this level [...] The will, and not the economic conditions, is the foundation of his social revolution.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1874/04/bakunin-notes.htm

This was not just a Anarchist problem re Russia, it was also a problem of instinctive socialist ie the Blanquist which is what the Bolsheviks were accused of and became and thus the;

‘phantasy of overturning an entire society through the action of a small conspiracy’

And the;

‘superior force of will’

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1885/letters/85_04_23.htm

I suppose if all the worlds peasants in 1913 etc were denied the vote and democracy etc and were led by a ‘vanguard’, it is somewhat different.

I think the early 20th century Marxists were thinking in terms of a “European social revolution” no doubt including the Americans, Canadians, New Zealand and Australia, all high up on the GNP per capita Scale.

That was the substance the ‘Mir’ Russian debate about whether or not the primitive communists of the staggeringly backwards Russia would be allowed to be absorbed into a “European social revolution”.

I am very sensitive to the tactless and inappropriate issue of having the SPGB dragged into every debate by Leninists, but slothjabbber started that.

However the 1904 SPGB position on the “European social revolution” and/or world socialism might be interesting just as the only orthodox old Marxists left.

I actually don’t know what it is.

I would find it hard to believe that part of their position on the possibility of 'world socialism', that I disagree on, involved or would incorporate the likes of China, India and Africa etc.

There can be a nasty association with this kind of thing re the ‘white man’s burden’ etc etc.

So I would like to point out that places like China, India and Arabia etc were far more technologically and ‘intellectually’ advanced than capitalist Europe a long way into the historical process.

In fact much of the early success of British capitalism rested on the theft of technology from the ‘India’ eg textile and steel production.

Which was technologically progressively bouncing along at a merry and just human 'simple commodity producing pace' all on its own.

I have an emotive objection and prejudice against the Marxist paradigm by the way.