Bourgeois Rights and the Means

Author:”Lao Tian”

Translator:”Kyon”

Translator’s Note

Lao Tian is a prolific writer and one of the leading figures of China’s left. This terse article should be treated as a polemical piece that reflects on the power inequalities in the Socialist management system that allowed for the re-establishment of the Capitalist wage system. “To each according to his labor” is the principle of Socialist distribution that has been applied since the Russian Revolution. Lao Tian does not reject that principle. He does find problematic, however, the polarization of management power that was a fact of Socialist management outside of the Cultural Revolution. The “commensurability of equal volumes of labor,” a central component of the Marxist theory of value, is also a rhetorical point that may weaponized by those seeking Capitalist restoration. That is to say it may be used to justify typical Capitalist wage labor, income differentials, and the monopolization of management rights as necessary outcomes of this Marxist concept’s application. In the final sections of the article, Lao Tian speaks more broadly about a three-stage strategy of Capitalist Restoration in China that he saw as unfolding, but not yet complete in 2018. He offers particular ire for the Chinese scholars that gradually moved from socialist to capitalist positions while staying equipped with the same Marxist rhetoric. Central to this line deviation in economic construction is Lao Tian’s “publicification,” a novel but unclear concept that is meant to encapsulate the thrust of the democratic reforms carried out in various political and economic fields under the leadership of Mao Zedong.

Author’s Foreword

“When realizing the principle of distribution according to labor, who judges the quantity of labor?” This is the problem from which the polarization of power between supervisors and the supervised was born. When a minority is supervising the majority, the justness of management is bound to be insufficient. Yet in the past, discussion of this question was held only within the theoretical framework of bourgeois legal rights. As the foundation was incorrect, the grand spire built upon it was naturally an unsturdy structure.

The author opines that the way out of political power polarization lays in the opening up of management spheres, involving the supervised into management, allowing for a reduction in management expenses and the recognition of the demands for fairness of the majority.

Author’s Foreword

“When realizing the principle of distribution according to labor, who judges the quantity of labor?” This is the problem from which the polarization of power between supervisors and the supervised was born. When a minority is supervising the majority, the justness of management is bound to be insufficient. Yet in the past, discussion of this question was held only within the theoretical framework of bourgeois legal rights. As the foundation was incorrect, the grand spire built upon it was naturally an unsturdy structure.

The author opines that the way out of political power polarization lays in the opening up of management spheres, involving the supervised into management, allowing for a reduction in management expenses and the recognition of the demands for fairness of the majority.

Translation: Distribute According to Labor

Distribution according to labor is a distribution method with both political and economic content. The “commensurability for equal volumes of labor” as part of this economic content can easily be endorsed by the majority as a “reasonable plan of action.” This bottom-up endorsement easily realizes a functional role – it serves as an ideological tactic and legitimate means by which management rights of monopoly are defended.

The political content is the polarization of power: a minority of people can make assessments of efficiency on the majority of people as if the latter were labor implements, and then dogmatically set up material incentives and other forms of control. Proceeding from this, the polarization of power is clearly fixed: one group of people have the power to manage and another group must passively accept the management controls placed upon them. The means by which the managers acquire the acceptance and recognition of those managed lies in the outward appearance of equality granted by the principle of “commensurability for equal volumes of labor.”

So long as laborers forfeit the political frame of view, simply accept the fairness of “a day’s wage for a day’s work,” unthinkingly endorse a power on high supervising and judging the fruits of their labor, the acceptance of polarization in power is then a foregone conclusion. Fairness in managing now could only have a place in the realm of wild fantasies. The heart of the problem rests here: In the real world of capitalism, where information and supervision costs are greater than zero, capitalists’ willingness to pay for management is always far lower than the high cost threshold required for fairness. Thus, in order to save on management costs, capitalists cannot but keep management decisions stuck at the level of crude arbitration. Fairness in management can exist only in word. Cutting costs and assuring fairness cannot be realized when management rights are monopolized by a handful of professional administrators, and only could exist through a process wherein management rights are made public. Through the realization of this private realm becoming a public one along with the incentivizing of the wide participation of laborers, it becomes possible to economize the vast volume of management-related data and supervision costs that presently exist, leading to overall reduction of related investment and the actualization of a level of management which is consistent with the majority’s demands for fairness.

Thus, the various methods by which a minority managed a majority were always vigorously opposed by Mao Zedong. In March of 1960, he compared the Angang Constitution and the Magang Constitution, rejecting the internal management practices of Soviet factories.[1] Even earlier, Mao criticized Stalin for overestimating the role of technicians and cadres. The differing political views on this question represent the foundational stones of the Socialist system, without which good implementation and ultimately even the survival of the system become an impossibility. Before the end of his life, Mao reflected on the divergence of political views which took place within the very highest strata of the Chinese Communist Party. Two big divergent political views received his attention above all others: those within the party who opposed cooperativization, and those who held antipathy towards the criticism of Bourgeois rights. After Deng Xiaoping took control of government, Yu Guangyuan[2] and others wrote that “distribution according to labor is the principle of distribution under Socialism.” This view ignored political content, especially the unsocialist direction of some political developments. Of course the ultimate goal of all this was to break up the operating system of management rights that prevailed in the Mao Era — The transformation of the private realm into a public one– This is precisely the revolutionary legacy that was validated from the Sanwan Reorganization[3] down to the Angang Constitution. In the end the famous prediction of the Cultural Revolution was proved right: “Liu and Deng are out to betray Chairman Mao’s Revolutionary Line.”


Yu Guangyuang

The transformation which then came to pass verified that: if the revolutionary line of “democratization” is abandoned, those managed will increasingly not support the goals of management and their willingness to exert themselves will drop down to a low level that would hardly be satisfactory.[4] At the same time, the compulsory powers grow from monopolized management power could not find their full realization when still constrained by the state enterprise form and the memories of those that work there. (In the absence of democratization), it simply became hard for reformers to again achieve the same kind of labor enthusiasm in as the specific group of familiar people still were the same people running the factory, no matter how much they tinkered with the relative strength of managing rights or the position of the managers. To reach their goal, it became a necessity to move towards privatization and the reinstatement of the wage labor system.

Reform in the end restored the wage labor system, Deng got it started in 1979 and Zhu Rongji finished it twenty years later. The management system based on the “publification” of the private realm was removed from publicly owned enterprises. This represented no less than the destruction of the political and ideological condition that made public enterprises viable. The beginning determined the end point. It set down the very direction of reform, the door to destroying publically own means of production was decisively opened.

In the Mao Era, the struggle over the necessary ideological and political conditions for public ownership of the means of production was placed in the framework of legal rights for the Capitalist Class, the core of the struggle was not the issue of “ commensurability for equal volumes of labor,” but was built around the question of polarization in political power. This was reflected in the return to material incentives and a tiered wage system founded on monopolized management power. It will go on to destroy completely the foundational principle on which public ownership of the means of production was based. Thus, in 1969 Mao said the following at the 9th Congress of the Communist Party of China: “It would seem necessary for us to undertake the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Our foundation is not sufficiently solid. From what I have observed, while it cannot be said that this is not true of all of them or even the vast majority, in a relatively large number of factories leadership is not in the hands of the workers, nor is it in the hands of real Marxists. Among those who led factories before it can also not be said that there were no good people. There were good party secretaries, vice secretaries,,committee members and branch secretaries. However, they went along with Liu Shaoqi in the use of material incentives, profit-oriented production, the giving out of bonuses, and avoidance of proletarian politics as an issue.”

Within officialdom and enterprises there are many who unknowingly walk the path of Liu Shaoqi, loving very much the application of material incentives and profit-oriented production. Mao predicted that in the end this could only lead to “the restoration.” Mao Zedong said that material incentives and profit-orientated production contain within them a turning point or perhaps a kind of internal logic, perhaps comparable to the social structure of accumulation forwarded by David Kotz. The institutional complexes necessary for related accumulation as defined in SSA theory, the wage labor system in service of profit-seeking production goals, all can be re-salvaged through the expansion of material incentives and profit-oriented production. These two phenomena are closely interrelated, although I have not yet seen anyone sort out the precise relationship in academic terms.

 Setting out from the already-set judgments on the internal logic of capitalist legal rights and the determinations that “the Capitalist is within the Party,” and “a capitalist state without capitalists has been built,” the essay that Mao had instructed Zhou Enlai to have composed, On the Social Base of Lin Biao’s Anti-Party Group, most accurately predicts the three step “restoration” that has set been taking place: “First the legal rights of the Capitalist class will be expanded, then public ownership of the means of production will be made into an empty shell, finally then a Capitalist republic will be established.” The “pop intellectuals” who painstakingly capitalize on the political disapproval that exists in every sphere of society, in their shameless promotion of universal rights and Capital, are acting in service of the third step in this grand strategy – they are fulfilling the (ideological) needs demanded by the establishment of a capitalist republic.

Setting out from the political and ideological conditions that are internally necessary for the economic foundation, rebuilding the polarization of political power may be called a drastic act that strikes at the very foundation of the Socialist economy. It is precisely from this critical spot that it can be understood how the core of a system was torn out – as if a building lost its support beams. It is also precisely from this point that we can accurately predict the coming third step of the restorationists strategy.

Febuary 21st, 2018.

[1] The Angang and Magang constitutions refer to two sets of management principles used by two different factories, the former Chinese and the latter Soviet. The Angang Constitution called for more political orientation and democratic participation in management. Mao favored this model and it would make up the basic guidelines of production until Deng Xiaoping came to power.

[2] One of the leading pro-reform political economists.

[3] This refers to the decision made at Sanwan Village to set up party apparatus in the each army unit and require that soldiers and officers receive equal treatment.


[4] “Democratization” roughly means the opening up of power to more a kind of participatory and transparent proletarian authority that goes beyond traditional notions of state ownership.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s