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Reading David Ruccio for Class

by Adam David Morton on September 21, 2016
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ruccioAhead of his delivery of the 9th Annual Wheelwright Lecture, how does one begin to evaluate and assess Development and Globalization by David Ruccio, his book of over 400 pages and 16 chapters, spanning output across more than 20 years of publications? The main point I want to articulate is that the book is indispensable reading for class in the twofold sense that this phrase can be read. First, as indispensable reading for class in that key chapters in the book shape my classrooms on political economy across the span of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research. Second, as indispensable reading for class in delivering a Marxist social class analysis of planning, development and globalisation at a time when many in and beyond the academy are consciously engaged in expunging class as an aspect of radical political economy.

My focus on this double-meaning and relevance for class evident in Development and Globalization will focus mainly on his Marxian analysis of state, class, transition and socialist planning evident, notably through the focus on Nicaragua and how this might help us understand twenty-first century socialism.

plan83There are at least six chapters in the book that are connected to analysing state property ownership and economic planning under the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) during the Nicaraguan Revolution (1979-1990), which are pivotal to excavating understandings today of transitions beyond capitalism. Ruccio asks at least two vital questions in this regard: (1) how can the transitional socialist state eliminate its noncommunal distributive class positions and expand its new position in both receiving communal surplus and providing some of the conditions of existence of nonexploitative forms of production outside the state?; and (2) how can the state eliminate its position as a capitalist exploiter (in terms of state capitalist enterprises) and itself become a site of collective or communal class processes, in which the workers themselves are not excluded from appropriating the surplus they produce?

inraThe result is a class-analytic to socialist planning that captures the contingent and contradictory effects of socialist planning, in continual movement and development, in the open-ended transition to communism. The class effects of planning are here revealed in detail through policies in Nicaragua that attempted to lead a movement away from fundamental (capitalist) class processes engaged in the production and appropriation of surplus labour, as well as their distribution through subsumed class processes linked to state managers, planning agencies, bankers, political parties, while engaging nonclass specific struggles and consequences, leading towards the conditions of existence of radically different fundamental class processes in a transitional society.

In Nicaragua, during the 1979 to 1985 period, there was an emphasis on “the state as the centre of accumulation”, centralising the surplus that could be ‘siphoned-off’ and realised in nonstate enterprises for the reactivation and restructuring of the economy on the basis of communist class practices. The role of the Ministerio de Planificación (MIPLAN) lending coherence to state initiatives in Plan 80, 81 and 83 across the areas of agriculture, finance, industry, infrastructure, and foreign aid as well as the state acting as a site of the fundamental class process in extracting surplus labour through nationalised processes of agricultural production within the Area de Propiedad del Pueblo (APP) are key features in this regard.

Ruccio importantly traces how the state in transition in Nicaragua was contingently involved in securing the existence of radically different and contradictory class processes. On one hand, socialist planning was seeking to secure communist fundamental class processes through the state as centre of accumulation, democracy, and education [REVOLUTION] that, on the other hand, was also undermined by the strengthening of the conditions of existence of capitalism based on surplus-value accumulation, productive efficiency, and macroeconomic balance [RESTORATION]. These two social orders of revolution and restoration cut across the Nicaraguan Revolution. To cite Ruccio,

The danger inherent in disregarding these connections is that peripheral socialist strategies may reproduce the social conditions of class processes that are diametrically opposed to the goal of eventually creating a communist society.

The class effects of socialist planning in Nicaragua therefore sought to extend the communist fundamental class process while reproducing some of the conditions of existence of capitalism through the expanded role of the state, thereby curtailing the socialist project of class transformation.

This stress reminds me of two significant points of departure that transcend Development and Globalization:

  1. 2016-rucco-printDoes the strengthening of capitalism that proceeded with the expansion of the state as the centre of accumulation in Nicaragua speak to the contingent tensions and conditions of class struggle in Latin America shaping socialism in the twenty-first century today, for example in Venezuela or Bolivia? In this regard, I am reminded in Bolivia of Vice President Álvaro García Linera’s own reflections on the ‘new extractivism’ of capitalist accumulation and geopolitics in the Amazon, analysed in my article in Antipode with Chris Hesketh. In the document Geopolítica de la Amazonía García Linera asks ‘is it not possible to use the resources produced by state-controlled raw materials export activity to generate the surpluses that can be used to satisfy the minimum living conditions of Bolivians?’ As a result, we might usefully ask and question what the class effects are of supporting Andean-Amazonian capitalism in Bolivia and how this is shaping twenty-first socialism in Latin America more widely; and
  2. 2016-ruccio-gleebooks-web-1Does the question about the role of the state in eliminating capitalist fundamental class processes and furthering existing capitalist sources of surplus-value production and appropriation speak to wider themes in ‘rethinking’ Marxism, including Antonio Gramsci’s theorising of the condition of passive revolution? Here the theory of passive revolution refers to instances of ‘revolution’ and ‘restoration’ where progressive aspects of change are both partially fulfilled and displaced, as argued in my Revolution and State in Modern Mexico. What then are the class effects of ‘revolution’ and ‘restoration’ in Nicaragua or elsewhere across Latin America? Flowing from this might then be the conclusion that the reading for class in Development and Globalization can be extended by cognate arguments on passive revolution in order to address the political rule of capital.

To sum up, Development and Globalization is indispensable reading for class. It reflects on the long-term challenges of success of revolution, in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Latin America, which involved radically transforming the state. This also entailed eliminating the role the state plays in appropriating, distributing, and reproducing the social conditions of existence of capitalist surplus-value. Allied to this is the need to break out of the deadlock of revolution-restoration. This condition—the impasse of passive revolution—remains a principal feature of the experience of capitalism in Latin America. This reading for class also entails an ability to describe and envision class processes other than capitalist ones as a crucial condition of existence of alternative class possibilities.

Adam David Morton
Adam David Morton is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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