Social Scientist. v 16, no. 185 (Oct 1988) p. 63.

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Historicizing the Problems of Socialism

Practically all socialist countries so far known have been born out of societies which had made only a very imperfect transition to capitalism. The latter is defined, following Karl Marx, as a mode of production under which labour power has been converted into a commodity which is 'freely* sold and bought, and where the means of production are concentrated in the hands of a class which derives its surplus by using the freely sold labour power in production processes under their control. In Tsarist Russia or Guomindang China, labour was anything but free in this sense except in relatively small pockets and regions, and the major means of production and asset was land whose owners exercised various forms of non-market power over peasants and landless workers.

The cultural ambience of these countries before the communist revolution was loaded with various kinds of feudal and patriarchal values. The long struggle waged by the artists and intellectuals of Tsarist Russia and Imperial or Guomindang China against such values and exploitative patterns of living certainly helped form the seedbed for the germination of a new culture. But it is very likely that even after the overthrow of the Tsarist and Guomindang regimes, the social values of large sections of the common people remained tinged with feudal, patriarchal, religious and even monarchical overtones.

One reason for such obstinate survival of the older values was that they had had long centuries in which to prepare their dreadful offering and to adapt the unwritten, informal codes of communication embedded in the family, the clan or the neighbourhood to their own requirements. The second reason was that the rationalist or socialist consciousness that should have dissolved the darkness of unreason did not always grow out of a direct critique of the specific forms such unreason took in the context of those societies, but out of a more general, more abstract and hence often less compelling analysis of the requirements of a scientific attitude towards the world. One of the best examples of the tenacity of unreason is that of the adherents of the Sankhya school of Indian philosophy. They had no difficulty in recon-

* Centre for Studies in Sodal Sciences, Calcutta.

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