The following review of Carlos Martinez’s The East is Still Red – Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century was written by Friends of Socialist China advisory group member and ChinaSquare co-editor Dirk Nimmegeers. It was originally published in Dutch on ChinaSquare and republished on the Belgian alternative media website De Wereld Morgen. It was translated into English by the author.
Taking a positive attitude towards China seems unforgivable today; indeed, these days even those who refuse to attack China are already indignantly criticized. Politicians and journalists show themselves eager to lend a helping hand to the new cold war, with all due risks.
For peace and climate activists, trade unionists and other progressive citizens, it is a tough assignment to go against this flow, and that can be done in many different ways. For instance, there are observers who note that China is different and think it is ‘allowed’ to be so. They recognise that China has found a way, adapted to historical and present circumstances, of creating prosperity, high technology, sustainable energy sources and self-reliance, to the satisfaction of its people. Some publicists believe that China has created its own form of capitalism while respecting its Confucian traditions. Others implore their supporters and the general public that we are condemned to cooperate with China, under the motto ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. This may be the motivation of those who prefer to talk about de-risking rather than decoupling. A more generously positive view ranks China among the emerging economies that deserve support because they claim the right to pursue an independent course and, above all, because they want to prevent a world war.
The above views are more or less shared by left-wing organisations that do not want to go too far in their support for China, either because they too believe that China is not a ‘truly socialist’ country, or because they are apprehensive of being accused of wanting to ’emulate the Chinese model’. Left-wing publicist and peace activist Carlos Martinez, however, starts from an original, and different, point of view. With his book The East is still Red, Chinese socialism in the 21st century, he frankly addresses readers who want to defend China or refuse to attack it and its government, primarily the leftists among them. He calls on his target audience to support China more than half-heartedly and for what he sees as the correct reasons. He calls for siding with China in the geopolitical debate and showing solidarity with the Chinese government and the CPC precisely because of the socialist character of the People’s Republic.
Carlos Martinez is well known as a co-founder of the No Cold War campaign and a prolific author on his own website and a number of left-wing media. The ‘great China book’ he is now publishing builds on his articles and those of other Friends of Socialist China, also the unambiguous name of the website set up and run by Martinez himself and some friends. The author of The East is still Red parries some of the most malicious accusations made by China’s Western enemies. He describes in detail and a host of references the main achievements of contemporary China, explaining why they are truly of historical stature and importance. In doing so, Martinez shows his disbelief and outrage at the fact that we in the West too often downplay or ignore those achievements. Bring out truths about the People’s Republic, Martinez also does from his capacity as a peace activist, as he fears that all the slander about China and the contempt and hostility for its politicians intend to prepare the public to support or accept the next war that could grow into a real world conflict. In this respect, his analysis runs parallel to that of the broad peace movement. Where Martinez differs, however, is that he draws his motivation from his Marxist worldview. That makes for a specific angle.
He makes a solidly grounded and – not insignificant – a pleasantly readable contribution to the debate on the nature of Chinese socialism. The author argues that ‘the East is still red’ with several arguments in the intro and throughout his narrative. Two of them we would like to touch upon here. When we look at the objectives and the historical achievements of the Communist Party of China, the socialist nature of the People’s Republic of China becomes clear. The country’s leaders have managed to achieve the most powerful and broad-based victory over extreme poverty, save millions of lives in their exemplary fight against COVID19, increase life expectancy by decades and become a world champion in creating alternative energy. Chapter 6 China is building an ecological civilization, for example, deals with how China is tackling one of the world’s most pressing tasks today. ChinaSquare.be released a Dutch-language prepublication of this chapter last December.
Carlos Martinez points out that according to famous Marxist thinkers, and eminent Chinese and foreign experts, this would have been impossible without socialism. He adds that ‘the average citizen of the US or Britain would certainly be happy if the government embraced a set of priorities focused on the interests of the masses (…) Unfortunately, the close correlation between wealth and power in capitalist society means that the interests of the masses are never the top priority’. Martinez further writes: ‘some believe that the CPC is merely paying lip service to Marxism to disguise its capitulation to capitalism, but it takes a lot of imagination to believe that such a conspiracy has been going on for more than 40 years and is being organised by the CPC leadership together with thousands of scholars, tens of millions of CPC members and hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens…’ The author predicts a sustainable future for Chinese socialism in every respect, and explains why he sees it that way, in the chapter Will China suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union?
The reasonings in The East is still Red will not convince everyone at once, but they will certainly make readers think. They invite critical examination of the sources Martinez draws from, and challenge readers to conduct their own discussions with this book. The appendix Recommended reading can be of great help in this regard.
In China, the ruling party seems to have found solutions to two important, perhaps the most important of all, problems that have traditionally plagued socialist movements. The first challenge is that of creating prosperity, within the extremely difficult context of continued and hostile capitalist world domination, in a socialist country. The CPC does this through the correct synergy of planning and market, under its leadership. The second task is that of organising a system in which the majority actually exercises political power. The party does so by, on the one hand, necessarily dominating politics, because this is the only guarantee that the interests of the majority are always kept in mind, and, on the other, by remaining in dialogue with the masses of the population on an ongoing basis – throughout ‘the whole democratic process’. To address both of the above issues, the CPC is experimenting with satisfactory, though not perfect, creative solutions. In doing so, the party struggles against imperialist encirclement, as well as bureaucracy, corruption and other ‘human factors’, and it does so successfully. Carlos Martinez makes this credibly clear, in the appendix, The universalisation of ‘liberal democracy’, assisted by Danny Haiphong, co-editor of Friends of Socialist China.
Martinez cannot be suspected of touting the People’s Republic as a model to be copied. Like the Chinese themselves, he realises the importance and propriety of adding ‘with Chinese characteristics’. However, in his view, this should not lead to distancing oneself from, or rejecting Chinese socialism (and certainly not to attacking it). At the very least, the CPC’s many new and sometimes bold insights can inspire other Marxist and progressive countries and movements. (Martinez mentions Vietnam as an example here, among others). The survival of a socialist country of such magnitude and with a highly admirable track record should be an encouragement for other Third World countries and the Left movements in general.
This much may be clear: The East is still Red aims to appeal primarily and starting with its intro to left-wing readers. However, the book will no doubt be equally useful to those who do not count themselves among that audience, but consider themselves interested or concerned global citizens. Indeed, the book shows a way out to a future where the storm clouds of poverty, war and climate crisis no longer hang over us.
For more explanations and quotes from well-known left-wing opinion makers:
The author himself explains in a video what drove him to write: