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Communism Effects on Society of Russia vs. China


During the XX century, communism was one of the main regimes dominated in Asia and Eastern Europe. Russia and China are vivid examples of communist ideology and its practical application in the nation-states. Thus, critics admit that Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong restructured and reshaped the original idea of communism and its ideology developed by Karl Marx and Marxists. In general, Marx preached a philosophy of materialism, claiming that the struggle for the material things of life was the basic force in history. Today his science is discredited and obsolete, but his picture of a classless society is utopian heaven that calls millions to action and hope.

Communism Defined

Communism is defined as a classless society based on collective ownership of the means of production. Communism teaches not simply materialism but dialectical materialism. Whereas other materialistic philosophies have been interested in describing the world, Marx was determined to change it, and dialectics was for him the science of change. The world is seen by the Communists as being in continual change, which takes the form of conflict (Pipes 23).

Nature is an organically related whole in which phenomena are connected with, dependent on, and determined by one another. Because of the continuous change, the future always lies with the new and rising forces rather than with the old and established ones. Change is not simply gradual progress; it moves to a crisis in which the qualitatively new arises out of conflict with the old (Pipes 38). Economic determinism leads to class struggle. In any system of private property, there is a division of the classes into those who have and those who do not have. This view has been reiterated as a social and political goal in the Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as follows:

Communism is a classless social system with one form of public ownership of the means of production and full social equality of all members of society; under it, the all-round development of people will be accompanied by the growth of the productive forces through continuous progress in science and technology; all the springs of co-operative wealth will flow more abundantly, and the great principle ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs will be implemented (cited Service 72).

This change will not be made without conflict, for the rulers will fight to retain their privileges. Resistance, however, is useless for the laws of history are now with the rising class as once they were with the ruling class in its hour of triumph. The “utopian” socialists, the Communists charge, preach socialism because they think that it is morally desirable. This preaching is so much sound and fury, for such appeals do not change society (Pipes 49). The Marxian Communists, however, claim to make a scientific study of the laws of society and its change so that they can work with them (Service 36).

Communism in Russia and China

Communism in Russia was introduced after the October revolution in 1817. In 1928 Stalin came to power and became a Communist Party leader. Communist parties meant something quite different from the immediate interests and concerns of the USSR. Stephen Cohen (1978) defined Russian Stalinism as not simply nationalism, bureaucratization, the absence of democracy, censorship, or police repression, but excess and extremism in each these. Cohen’s definition highlight Stalinism’s universal characteristics which the Communist Party shared. In Russia, communism was associated with industrialization and collectivization.

The main difference between Russia and China was that China and Mao adopted a Russian model of communism and socialism. The New Citizens’ Society originated because Mao advertised for like-minded students. When he first met Luo Zhanglong, one of the first to respond, they discussed together questions of a “cosmic” nature (Chai 54). Members of the society initially spent most of their time on “questions of life”; only with the May Fourth Movement did politics begin to take precedence. Mao becomes a country’s leader in 1954 (Service 77).

Industrial and Agrarian Politics f Communist Parties in Russia and China

Industrial and agrarian politics and land reforms provided by Chinese and Russian governments differed greatly from ‘original’ principles of communism. The Russian government and Stalin supposed that if industrialization could not be financed with outside capital, either earned with exports or borrowed from foreigners, then capital had to be found internally (Andrle 37). Trotsky and his followers, the ‘left-wing opposition’, argued that this ‘saving’ should be achieved by squeezing the peasantry.

Very simply, this meant that the peasantry would give more in value to the industrial sector than it would receive back, at least in the short run, and the difference could be used for investment. Rather than increasing production within the parameters of the existing structure of enterprises, the Soviet government attempted to develop new industrial complexes which in the short run might give lower returns than the expansion of existing units (Andrle 39).

Spurning conventional economic wisdom which recommended adding more labor inputs (labor of course was abundant and capital scarce) to cheaper, less technologically advanced machinery bought ‘second-hand’, the new industrial enterprises were made capital intensive. The policy was intended to bring up the USSR to the industrial standards of the advanced capitalist powers (Service 42).

Once Mao and the Communist Party took over after World War II, the program for industrialization followed the Russian model very closely. With the British out of China, the Japanese the hated enemy, and the Americans blockading the Straits of Taiwan and still backing Chiang Kai-shek, the Russians were the only ones the Chinese could turn to for advice and support. Convenience, however, was of course not the primary reason that the Chinese communists followed the Russian lead (Pipes 22).

As is well known, Mao, Chou, Deng, and other Chinese party leaders had been to Paris in the days when Paris was the bastion of socialist thought. They had then gone to Moscow to observe and study the first major socialist revolution (Chai 51). The Chinese Communist Party leaders saw Russia move from a backward, militarily weak nation to an industrializing nation with one of the most powerful military machines on earth. Most Americans, for instance, between 1948 and 1958, came to fear Russia’s military might, respect its scientific achievements, and accept the fact that basic industrial progress had been accomplished there (Pipes 26). Given this American perception (Pipes 29).

Thus, out of ideological like-mindedness, international necessity, and rational perception of apparent success, the Chinese party leadership set about rapidly to reproduce the Russian miracle. They copied the Russian industrial structure as closely as they could. They brought in Russian advisors to help them establish the factories and the infrastructure that the Russians had created. They also followed the Russian blueprint for political control of the economy through the apparatus of the party state bureaucracy. Both Russia and China had had a consonant historical political experience with the system that was established (Filtzer 29). That is, the pre-communist political structure of Russia and China had consisted of a centralized authoritarian state that extended its tentacles into society through a network of bureaucratic officials owing their allegiance to the central state power.

The Chinese mandarin bureaucracy was unsurpassed in the ancient world in this regard (while the Russian officials of the state were less well organized and less well respected). As a modern class structure emerged, this consonance with the past became an embarrassment. In the early years of industrial development, it was easily accepted. In fact, it was the capitalist industrial structure that seemed so alien within Russia and China (Chai 46).

The Chinese attempted to establish a planned economy without any trained planners. That is, the Chinese, from 1948 to 1958, really had few trained economists, few industrialists, and no business managers. Therefore, they had a planning board that essentially held no expertise. All the Chinese could do was faithfully follow the Russian lead. Where the Russian system was successful, it would be relatively successful, where it failed, they would fail.

Following the Russian plane, the Chinese did create the first phase of heavy industrial production (Pipes 55) They began to produce steel and machine tools, to create factories, and to utilize these gains for military production (Pipes 67). They also created the beginnings of economic infrastructure, including the building of roads and bridges, electrification, sewage systems, telephone, and other communication networks, and also schools to generate the educated workforce for the modern industrial system of the next phase of development. In any case, the Russian model itself was temporarily abandoned by the Chinese during Mao’s Great Leap and Cultural Revolution periods (Chai 234).

With the failure of these two programs, two divergent development programs were established at the same time in China. First, the Chinese leaders attempted, desperately, to reestablish the Russian model–to create a new five-year plan, to have the giant factory complexes produce industrial goods again, to have the party cadres firmly in control of the economic process once more, and so on (Filtzer 129).

According to communist theory, the state cannot own the land and all resources of the country. Socialism by definition means that no social classes exist based on property and that, therefore, human relationships are harmonious. This does not mean that there is complete harmony: there remain certain contradictions or opposing forces: but antagonistic contradictions which are based on class have been obliterated (Andrle 54).

The Soviet view of socialism gives the worker control over the means of production and does not make him alienated from his work. That is, the fruits of his labor are owned by him, not by entrepreneurs, and are controlled by him. Under socialism wages are paid ‘according to one’s work’, incentives for skilled or arduous work are still necessary for there are insufficient goods to satisfy all needs. Socialism, however, is but the first stage of Communism, which is the highest form of society. Marx defined its features only in general terms. This can be seen by examining Marx’s own definition of communist society (Pipes 41).

In the higher phase of communist society after the enslaving subordination of individuals under the division of labor, after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be fully left behind, and society inscribe on its banners ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs

Commodities, therefore, usually have prices reflecting their relative scarcities. In both socialist and communist societies, no hostile ‘antagonistic’ social groupings are said to exist and harmony prevails between social strata. Following communism ideology, Russia and China developed totalitarian regimes under strict control of the state and administrative power (Chai 54). Under Communism an abundance of goods is produced, money and prices are otiose: for money is only a means to ration goods. There is no division of labor. Men work according to their ability and receive according to their needs (Andrle 62).

Social Structure, Culture, and Education

In the social spheres of life, China and Russia reshaped the traditional interpretation of collective culture and values. Stalinism involved a universal mechanism of bureaucratic control found in subcultures or movements which demand full commitment, submission, and psychological dependence from their membership (Service 92). In milder forms, its procedures may exist in any bureaucratic environment involving hierarchy, aspirations for promotion, secret personnel procedures, and the inculcation of corporate loyalty. The institutionalization of the centrally directed “command economy” of the Russian and Chinese states was, at first, felt to be quite consonant with the traditions of these nations (Pipes 58).

Thus, in China, during the first ten years of the industrial development program, the establishment of the Russian-style state centralized, bureaucratically directed economy was backed with euphoric enthusiasm by many Chinese citizens and by most Chinese party leaders. The relative military success in the Korean War made the model seem even more sacrosanct (Service 12). Foreign students of Chinese politics, themselves members of an intellectual elite preoccupied with its relationship to social and political structures of power, have generally concentrated their attention on the relationship of Chinese intellectuals to the state and politics (Grieder 72).

This was a major concern, but what was authentically radical at this point was the rise of a new concern: the relationship of intellectuals to the common people” that constituted society. Socialism provided a necessary language for their reconceptualization of this relationship. As an immediate effect, some became convinced that education alone could not ameliorate the condition of the common people, that only change in material existence and social relations could resolve China’s problems.

Changing the economic structure of society moved to the forefront of radical thought, gradually overshadowing concern with cultural transformation. New Culture intellectuals became especially interested in the social relations that constituted the economic basis. Communists argued the greater realism and rationality of their method of social revolution (Service 82). Their reasoning took three related directions: that Communism had superior plans for economic development, which was essential to revolution and particularly important to backward China; that in accepting organization, it offered a better means of class struggle, which would otherwise have no direction; and finally, that Communism was more realistic in accepting the necessity of politics. In his “Considerations on the Social Revolution”, Li Da offered the most comprehensive argument for the economic superiority of Communism over anarchism (Grieder 61).

Revealing a clearly Marxist appreciation of the problem, Li stated that while anarchists were concerned mainly with the problem of distribution, Communists focused on production, which was essential to the creation of an economic basis for socialism. In advocating a “centralist” approach to production, Communism promised a means to achieve this end. For a socialist society, economic development required central intervention (Service 81).

Mao and other members of the Communist Party, especially Chou En-lai, placed great emphasis upon the development and expansion of a class of university-educated Chinese who could lead the nation toward modernity (Grieder 76). Chou, in a speech to the party’s central committee, expressed both hopes and fears of the party about this new set of strata they were actively creating. “The overwhelming majority of intellectuals,” he announced, “have become government workers in the cause of socialism and are already part of the working class” (Service 85). Notice this mental sleight of hand: by absorbing the new middle class into the party, this new class would become part of the vanguard of the working class (Burbank 325).

According to the original communist theory, as there are no classes in communist society, there can no longer be any coercive state or government apparatus which is the executive of the ruling class. Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union states:

Communism is a highly organized society of free, socially conscious working people in which public self-government will be established, a society in which labor for the good of the society will become the prime vital requirement of everyone, a necessity recognized by one and all, and the ability of each person will be employed to the greatest benefit of the people

So, both Chinese and Soviet models of communism took only the basic principles and ideas of the teaching neglecting fair distribution of resources and power (Service 62). Communism is based on public ownership and self-government, there are no hostile social classes, no antagonistic contradictions, and economically it entails a state of abundance (Burbank 325).

Personality Cult and One Party Monopoly of Power

Communism does not mention a strict leader’s power and dictatorship. Thus, Mao and Stalin transformed the original idea of the leading role of the working class and developed a cult of personality. The personality cults of Stalin and Mao later provided an additional means of shoring up the working-class elite. The cruder aspects of the cults reflected the lack of sophistication of the militants who practiced them. Stalinism provided a pseudo-scientific justification for the elite’s domination and conceptual tools easy to master and adequate to explain the world in which the party operated (Chen 73).

The promotion of proletarian literature and socialist-realist art helped ensure that workers would continue to dictate to intellectuals rather than the reverse (Chen 81). When the party entered political coalitions, however, its mode of co-opting elites came into conflict with the values of the new social strata to which the party had to appeal. Democratic centralism was always under scrutiny and attack in the non-Communist press and public opinion. Given these contradictions, internal struggles invariably erupted within the party leadership, always carefully hidden to prevent non-Communist opinions and attitudes from weighing in the outcome (Chen 23).

Stalinist loyalty demanded continued striving after the impossible. A devoted Communist must be “in the line,” apply policies and directives assiduously, but also anticipate changes before they occurred, act creatively and originally within a narrowly defined set of guidelines, and perform beyond what was expected. The line must be internalized as part of one’s character and outlook. The pressure was relentless (Johnson and Lawler 25).

The line could never be questioned once “freely” decided upon and was always correct. If it did not result in the anticipated success, it was not properly applied. People submitted to the peculiar psychological universe of Stalinism with loyalty hard to fathom even for today’s Communists. For Jean Chaintron, Resistance leader and former Prefect, being ill-thought of or accused of failure by the leadership were intolerable, worse than a death sentence. Stalinization involved the suppression of local initiative in party decision-making, prohibition of “factionalism” in the organization, and a facade of unity in governing organisms. The new organization involved the Russification of political vocabulary (Service 36).

The use of “cellule” for the smallest party units and “rayon” for the next level of regional organization were both derived from the Russian. The most lasting effect of Stalinization was the proletarianization of the party leadership. A network of Communist schools was established so that the party could recruit and train cadres from humble occupations (Johnson and Lawler 58).

Similar to Stalin, Mao used his genuine charisma and the power of the army to override the power of the party. He would extend his charisma through a process by which it was enhanced artificially–” manufactured” into a “cult of personality,” with his picture on every billboard, his “little red book” in everyone’s hands. He would make himself godlike, shining from the Gate of Heavenly Peace on the nation below him. But Mao would not depend on his charisma alone, but on the power of the army to assist him in carrying out his dream (Service 38).

Therefore, though the Cultural Revolution would embody a genuine attempt at creating social equality, it never embodied any attempt to create political democracy. It was an egalitarian and anti-bureaucratic movement, but not a democratic one, as the youth of China would, all too soon, discover. Mao tried to make China the most socialist society on earth. He tried to skip a stage of history and move China directly to pure communism (Johnson and Lawler 73).

If Mao’s model had succeeded, history might have taken a different course. But Mao failed, and in failing sent social history on its present trajectory, and, unfortunately, threw China into total disarray. The Chinese would give Mao a chance to create his Yenan commune in all of China. But Yenan had been a rural-agrarian commune, and Marx had warned against agrarian socialism as a model for modernity. The structural imperatives of industrial technocratic production, the modern state, and urban life would prove incompatible with Yenan-style agrarian communism. Still, Mao would not give up his utopian vision. In two cataclysmic, heroic, and tragic efforts, he tried to create Yenan communism for all of modern China. The failure of these efforts has left China confused and uncertain about the future (Johnson and Lawler 52).

In Soviet Russia after the October Revolution of 1917, the Communist Party became the authoritative source of values and now has a monopoly of political organization. It claims the right to make pronouncements over a wide variety of fields. Its statements on science, education, and the organization of the economy are more detailed and have more influence than party statements in liberal-democratic states (Service 81). In the 1977 Constitution, the role of the party is defined as follows: “The Communist Party of the Soviet Union is the leading and guiding force of Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state and public organizations” (Johnson and Lawler 91).

The CPSU exists for the people and serves the people. By a monopoly of authoritative political power, it was not meant that every action taken in China was determined by the party. Many decisions taken in social institutions such as the family or in government departments were made without recourse to party authority. It meant that the party’s values were dominant and solely legitimate, only the party safeguarded the interests of the working class. It decided the social, economic, and political goals of the society: it fixed the relationship between men and property, shaped the dominant economic and political mores (Johnson and Lawler 48).

Russia and China required an extensive civil service to administer and coordinate the society. Unlike the smaller communist nations of Eastern Europe, Russia and China have always had extensive, powerful state bureaucracies to help integrate them politically. In China, the sobering effect of the political emergence of labor led to profoundly radical consequences. Notions about labor were dispelled and intellectuals were eventually shocked out of their complacency.

Within a year of the May Fourth Movement, the ability to champion the cause of the masses and to promote mass participation in politics came to serve as a crucial test for correct radical politics — and radical political legitimacy in general (Pipes 28). This turn had immediate and concrete implications for the self-image of radical intellectuals. Mao believed that some of these apparent contradictions–especially those between the state and the people–might be resolved by bringing the newly generated university stratum into the political process. The party officials were very nervous about this because they had engaged in rather heavy-handed propagandizing at the major universities, but Mao’s views eventually prevailed over theirs. However, Mao did not realize, because of his idyllic commitment to socialism (Kornai, 61).

In 1936 the ‘ Stalin’ Constitution was decreed. It proclaimed direct election to the Soviets, secret ballots, and the enfranchisement of all social classes (Service 71). There was, of course, no freedom for the organization of political parties: parties could only rest on a class basis, and, as there were no classes in Soviet Russia, there could be no basis for them. The state, as an organization of legitimate armed force, still existed (Kornai, 81).

This was justified by reference to the encirclement of the USSR by hostile war-like capitalist states which required a state to protect socialist power. According to Stalin’s theory, there was a friendly collaboration between the three main social groups: intelligentsia, working-class, and peasantry. This did not mean that there was complete harmony: there were still some areas of strife. For example, practices and values which had been learned in previous non-socialist epochs and differences between town and country gave rise to groups with separate and specific interests (Pipes 47).


In Russia and China, the Revolutions brought proletarian power. At the outset, even in political theory, it did not bring socialism but ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat. The proletariat defended its class position against the hostile and counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie and aristocracy. For Marxists, class relations are based on property relations. The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ ensured the rule of the working class over the dispossessed bourgeoisie and aristocracy, but in 1936, Stalin decreed that socialism had been achieved and that no ‘contradictory’ classes existed in the USSR. The nationalization of property, and planned production guided by the Communist Party, gave rise to a socialist society.

This consensual view of soviet society is based on the Marxist notion, described earlier, that social and political conflict derives from ownership or class relations. From Stalin’s viewpoint the abolition of property-owning classes, therefore, entailed the elimination of the major forms of socio-political conflict. Such conflicts, however, could be resolved within the parameters of the Soviet state system: they were ‘non-antagonistic contradictions, rather than the antagonistic ones of the capitalist system which could only be resolved by a fundamental change in the social order. While conflict existed on a world scale between the USSR and the leading capitalist states, internally, the social order and social relations were viewed as basically harmonious.

Soviet political institutions were constructed on these assumptions. In China, the history of the emergence of the class structure China was to be no typical history. For Mao had not given up his dream of romantic rural socialism. The Great Leap Forward was to force another step backward for China, in general, and the new middle class in particular. Mao’s failure to create utopian communism through his Great Leap and Cultural Revolution had already thrown China into a state of confusion. The Chinese leaders had fallen comfortably back on Communism to recreate order and stability. Stalin and Mao possessed only the basic principles and doctrines of communism but transformed and reshaped them in order to maintain strong personal control over the country and its resources.

Works Cited

  1. Andrle, V. Workers in Stalin’s Russia New York, 1988.
  2. Burbank, J. Controversies over Stalinism: searching for a Soviet society. Politics and Society19, pp. 325-40, 1991.
  3. Baum Richard, ed. Reform and Reactions in Post-Mao China–the Road to Tiananmen. New York: Rontledge, 1991.
  4. Chai Joseph C. H. China: Transition to a Market Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  5. Chang Maria H. “Totalitarianism and China: The Limits of Reform,” Global Affairs (fall, 1987), pp. 1-23.
  6. Chen Jie. China since the Cultural Revolution: From Totalitarianism to Authoritarianism. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.
  7. Cohen, Gerald. Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
  8. Filtzer, D. Soviet workers and Stalinist industrialization London, 1986.
  9. Grieder, Jerome. Chinese Intellectuals and the State. New York: The Free Press, 1983.
  10. Johnson, R., Lawler, G. Lenin, Stalin and Communist Russia: The Myth and Reality of Communism. Studymates Ltd, 2004.
  11. Kornai, J. The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism. Clarendon Press, 1992.
  12. Marx, K., Engels, F. The Communist Manifesto. Edt. D. McLellan, Oxford Paperbacks; New Ed edition, 1998.
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  14. Pipes, R. History of Communism: A Brief History. Weidenfeld & Nicolson History, 2002.
  15. Service, R. Comrades: A World History of Communism. Macmillan, 2007.
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