PRC, USSR and Socialism
Socialism is a system of government and authority whose primary characteristic is the denial or repudiation of individual property rights. Under this system of governance, individuals do not enjoy the right to own property; rather this right is vested in the society. All property is owned by the society and individuals cannot stake an individual claim on any. Distribution and production are controlled by the government and the state. As a form of governance, socialism has been practiced in several states in the world throughout the years. The proponents of socialism have often suggested several goals that this form of government aims to achieve. One of these goals is to supposedly achieve progress and general prosperity. The other is to promote brotherhood and peace. In spite of these seeming good intentions of these goals, socialism when practiced has often led to negative society repercussions. Although there are some states that have prospered from the practice of socialism, many have however devastatingly collapsed. The People’s Republic of China and the USSR are two of the nations that have practiced socialism as a form of governments. This paper aims to look at the success of these two nations in practicing socialism.
Even before going into more details, socialism as a form of government and administration seems to have worked quite well in China. In spite of various barriers, socialism has persisted in China and seems to have embraced by the citizens of the nation. In the last five decades, China has witnessed humongous economic growth (Fenby 2008). A part of this is attributable to the socialism. China has become a global powerhouse and is well on course to become the greatest economy in the world which will see it overcome the United States (Fenby 2008).
Socialism and communism are often used interchangeably although in real sense, they basically denote the same thing. Some, however, claim that communism is a more extreme form of socialism. The main form of government in China was capitalism, and it was not until the Chinese Revolution that a new system with socialist tendencies emerged (Fenby 2008). The form of socialism in China is currently referred to as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. The meaning of this is quite literal as it means a brand of socialism that has been adapted to fit with the characteristics and conditions of China. This form of socialism is the one that is currently being propagated by the Communist Party of China. It is and ideal that has seen the country move from the oppressive system of capitalism that was in effect prior to the Chinese Revolution (Mitter 2004).
Socialism with Chinese Characteristics has its roots in the economic reforms that took place in the nation in 1978. Since this time, the ruling Communist party has been attempting to adapt Marxist principles to the real conditions in China (Fenby 2008).
The People’s Republic of China was formed in the 1950’s and immediately after its, formation the nation’s economy was in shambles. This acted as an incentive for the ruling communist party to initiate development agendas based on socialism that were to lift the nation out of its economic problems.
China was an impoverished nation at the time of the Revolution and was characterized by many peasants. Starvation and famine were rife in many parts of the nation. The Revolution was therefore seen as an act of heroism to liberate the Chinese people. Revolutionaries like Mao Zedong overcame a host of difficult and complex problems to form the communist party and unite millions of peasants and destitute workers (Fenby 2008).
The revolution can be considered as socialist in nature because its leaders (who were also the leaders of the Communist Party) adopted a socialist orientation in their attempts to fulfill the historical desires of the working class citizens (Fenby 2008). The previous state that was capitalist in nature was inadvertently crushed, and the ruling Nationalist Party officials had to flee.
The Revolution led to the creation of new state characterized by the elevation of poor peasants and workers to the ruling class. The nation was no longer in the hands of the former ruling class which had traditionally ruled the nation with an iron fist.
The period between 1953 and 1957 was designated as one in which the nation would fully transition to socialism. This period actually corresponded with another agenda known as “The First Five Year Plan” that was characterized by intensive efforts to achieve political centralization, agriculture collectivization and industrialization (Fenby 2008). This Five Year Plan was based on the Soviet model and the technical, and economic assistance of the Soviet Union was expected to play a huge role in this Chinese transition to socialism. China actually signed several deals with the Soviet Union between 1953 and 1954 (Fenby 2008).
One of the most pressing needs that the new Communist Party had to contend with was the provision of food to the nation’s large population. Other pressing needs included domestic capital to be used in investment, technology, military hardware and so on. One of the ways through which the government attempted to satisfy these need was through the collectivization of agriculture. This was achieved in 1956 and from there, the government embarked on nationalizing other areas including industry, trade and banking as part of the new socialist way of doing things (Fenby 2008). At this juncture, private ownership had essentially been abolished. Everything was now owned by the society.
The Five Year Plan period witnessed enormous post-liberation industrial production and construction; far much more than what the old nation had achieved in the previous 100 years. This great success was proof that the new socialist ideal adopted was the way to go, and if the nation hoped to prosper, socialism was the way to go.
It was at this juncture that it was also realized that socialism would bear even greater fruits if it was adapted to fit with the Chinese conditions and as mentioned earlier, this led to the adoption of the ideal known as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. This brand of socialism has been so successfully implemented that the economic benefits arising from it have been nothing short of phenomenal (Fenby 2008).
Thanks to socialism, albeit with a Chinese touch, China has witnessed unprecedented economic growth that has left many other global players simply astounded. The growth rate of the nation has been increasing year in year and out, and it particularly went off the roof after the further opening up of policy in the 1970’s. This humongous economic growth has been accompanied by a drastic reduction of poverty levels in the nation. For example, in the 1970’s, the poor population was almost 300 million but this number has reduced to less than 50 million and is expected to reduce even more (Mitter 2004).
Therefore, the implementation of socialism in China has been very successful and has bore many benefits. Socialism is often treated with a lot of apprehension and has in the past led to the collapse of nations that practiced it, but the situation in China speaks a different story. The success that China has achieved with socialism has attracted the attention of scholars and experts around the world who highly praise the superiority of this system in China.
The USSR is another state whose practice of socialism can be explored. The standout difference between the People’s Republic of China and the USSR is that while socialism continues gaining ground and shape in China, socialism in the USSR came to end in 1991 after the breakup of the Union.
In spite of the collapse of the Soviet Union, history shows that the nation had successfully implemented a system of socialism that brought about significant growth in the country. In fact, the union itself seemed to have been built around socialist ideas as revealed by its name which is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (Nove, 1982).
The Socialist ideal in the Soviet Union was introduced by the Soviet Communist Party. This party was formed after the Russian Revolution of 1917 which was marked by a separation of the social democrats and communists. The communist party wanted to introduce socialism into Russia and for the first time, the administration stopped viewing socialism as a future vision but as one that could be implemented in that period.
The leadership under Lenin nationalized several elements of the economy as part of this socialist strategy. Many of the means of production were nationalized except for agriculture. According to Lenin (1971), labor production was the most important element of the new socialist system that was being proposed in the country. Lenin postulated that capitalism would come to be vanquished and annihilated by socialism that would lead to the creation of a new and a higher labor productivity (Lenin 1917).
A system of government was also established via worker councils. Lenin was an extremely ruthless ruler who would execute those who dared to oppose him. He formulated an authoritarian and bureaucratic development model. This model was hugely condemned by the nation’s social democrats who agreed that it essentially undermined the real social ideals that had prompted the Russian Revolution. Lenin would later on come to be replaced by Stalin once he died. Stalin was no different from Lenin, and his brutal murdering of his opponents is well known and documented.
Stalin was a huge proponent of the ideal “Socialism in One Country”. In simple terms, Stalin believed that it was possible for social construction to be successful in the newly created Soviet Union without a socialist revolution having to occur in a country that was already industrialized. Trotsky (1937) however greatly disagreed with this ideal arguing that true socialism was only achievable through revolution. This ideal was implemented by Stalin throughout the 1930’s. The implementation was quite successful and for a long time, Russia stood tall as a nation governed by socialism. Other nations initiated socialist revolutions, but they essentially failed. These, for example, included Hungary and Germany.
After the demise of Stalin, socialist ideals continued to be propagated by subsequent leaderships. The practice of socialism in the USSR did not however seem to be enough as the nation’s leadership aided other nations to instill similar ideals as part of its larger strategy to gain their trust and allegiance as opposed to giving these to the United States in which it was engaged with in a Cold War.
Just like China, however, the socialist system spurred enormous economic growth in the USSR. In fact, between the 1930’s and the 1970’s, the economic growth of Russia was one of the fastest in the world, almost being at par with that of Japan (Nove, 1982). In fact, the socialist ideals of the USSR were admired and copied by other nations across the world. China is an example of a country that copied the Russian socialist model to bring about huge economic growth and success (Nove, 1982).
However, the huge economic growth brought about by socialism in the first part of the 20th century, however, started to slow down in the latter half of the century. In 1991, socialism in Russia reached its end in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the adoption of new forms of government and public administration by the newly split up nations. As the greatest proponent of socialism, it was expected that the demise of socialism in Russia would be accompanied by the demise of the ideal in other nations such as China, but this was not the case as China managed to persevere this storm.
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Fenby, J., 2008. The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power 1850-2008. London, Penguin.
Nove, A., 1982. An Economic History of the USSR. Harmondsworth, Penguin.
Trotsky, L., 1937. The Revolution Betrayed: what is the Soviet Union and where is it going?
Lenin, V. I., 1917. The State and Revolution.
Mitter, R., 2004. A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World. Oxford, OUP.