Socialist dystopias portray the reality of socialism in bleak images: a totalitarian surveillance society, post-war nuclear fallouts, the depressing situation of the everyday man lining up for bread, and so on. But what they portray with bleak images serve to advance a point where the individual man resists against all the mechanisms of the state. The underlying liberal politics of these dystopias tries to warn its audiences about the dangers of aspiring to build a utopia based on the ideas of a perfect society of fairness and economic equality. In their own right, dystopias prefigured Fukuyama’s end of history that by depicting an impossible future, history has already reached its pinnacle in the Anglo-American ethos of individual freedoms and market society.
A few dystopian novels depict a multivalent socialist reality. Andrei Platonov and Alexander Bogdanov’s sci-fi utopias slowly gain the attention of contemporary theorists (Mckenzie Wark most prominent among them), because of their depiction of a socialist utopia as a struggle for the creation of a new collective culture and a new relation to the Earth. However, it is in Platonov’s Happy Moscow that we find the disjointedness of socialist life as the gap between the utopian aspirations of Stalin’s USSR and the actual life of everyday Muscovites. The comedic aspect in Platonov’s story is the ambiguous character of Moscow Chestnova who embodies the aspiration of Stalin’s vision of a new socialist people and culture and the remnants of the old Muscovite pre-Soviet cosmopolitanism.
Satire and sci-fi often portray reality far accurately than anything Socialist realism has portrayed. The latter often creates myth out of economic miracles and collective actions; the depiction of men and women moving in synchrony directed by the march of history in a divine ballet, epitomized in the Maoist Cultural Revolution cinematic operas, depict the singular body of the proletariat in a unified cultural and utopian goal. However, it is in the disjointed and satirical language that the gap between the fantasy of a unified proletariat under socialism and the attempt to satisfy the gaze of the big Other arises in the theatrical performance of collectivity.
I mention these examples from sci-fi because of how the reality of really existing socialism’s failure is portrayed without the accompanied apologia for liberalism. We can still see the dialectical progress of the socialist vision, as a struggle to imagine a new culture for a new society and not just a state. This issue brings us to an interesting development in socialist administration.
One can argue all day whether Chinese market socialism reaffirms the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought or a lapse to a rightist revisionism within the party. Whatever course of action the Chinese communists have taken, the progress of Chinese socialism has led us to another development in socialist culture different from the collectivism of Leninism and Maoism. Roland Boer, optimistic about the developments of Chinese socialism, noted how the 19th Party Congress generated a renewed socialist culture: lessons on Marx and Mao were popular, the use of the word “comrade” reappeared in common use, and so on. In addition, the documents of the 19th Party Congress and the articulation of Xi-Jinping thought expressed the orientation of the Chinese government towards the free development of all (echoing Marx’s Manifesto), generating equal opportunities for its citizens. While the economic reforms generated a huge wealth gap between the new tycoons and the rest of the nation, the second decade of the 21st century saw that wealth gap slowly being bridged. This was achieved by raising the general populace to the middle class, concentrated in the urban centers. This generates a debate whether any state which takes the word “socialism” as its system should be oriented in the enrichment of its citizens or to the generation of an egalitarian culture (similar to Cuba and Venezuela). Whatever theoretical case we might take regarding this issue, it is necessary that we see it as a way of redefining what the proletariat means after the revolution.
In the case of China, while the party spoke of harmony, the Xiaokang society (小康社会), or “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era”, one cannot deny that Chinese socialism is leading towards its own Spartan society, a Spartan socialism. Economic prosperity has lifted the lives of the Chinese people, building on the foundations laid down by Mao up to Xi; the market was simply an instrument by which other sectors of economic and social life can be improved and to boost the productivity of Chinese industry. The improvement of the lives of Chinese citizens however is a product of global market society. Production concentrated on Chinese factories, boosted by its discipline is aided by a new culture of consumerism in Japan and in the West reaping the rewards of the bubble economy, raising the demand for commodities. As the contradictions of the market society worsen and populisms in the West are pushing for economic protectionism, China has become the beacon of globalization, defending the well-oiled system of international production and exchange. But what it defends as the strong interconnection of the different potentialities of different nations obscures the fact that Chinese capitalism, in its dependence on African oil and minerals and production outsourcing in the third world, strengthens the Spartan mode of production that sustain its own Spartan egalitarian society.
Xi-Jinping thought pushes for harmony, not just among its own peoples and its state apparatus but also in the market, eliminating risky financial speculations and promoting the development of its neighbors. Chinese investments on agro-industrial technology, infrastructure, technology, and others boost its interests of maintaining the social harmony among its citizens. The new Chinese middle class is the new leisure class of global capitalism, a development in the conception of the proletariat that Marx and Engels have not envisioned. Communism, in theory, would make us more human, more ethical, and responsible for the collective development of our comrades. The Chinese middle class maintains that collective spirit, but in the collective pursuit of enjoyment and individual fulfillment. To maintain the middle class and its sense of fulfillment is the primary objective of the state. And to achieve this, it depends on a new class of helots from the global peripheries. Its domestic policy of equality and prosperity for all meets its obscene underside in the state’s economic attitudes with the rest of the world.
It is an interesting reality that even Mao Zedong himself tries to out-Mao himself in the cultural revolution, while the leftist party apparatchik tried in a similar way to out-Mao Mao Zedong