What follows is the text of a speech given by veteran British peace activist and China specialist Jenny Clegg at the launch event in London for Carlos Martinez’s book The East is Still Red: Chinese socialism in the 21st century.
Summarising the key points of the book, Jenny highlights in particular the escalating New Cold War and anti-China rhetoric in the West. “China is being presented as an existential threat to the Western way of life so as to prepare a climate for war.”
Beyond the obvious dangers of preparing a climate for war, Jenny points out that the incessant lies and misinformation about China also serve to cut progressive movements in the West off from a rising multipolarity, thereby leaving them “isolated from potential alternatives, trapped in the cul-de-sac of racist myths of the indispensable West.” And further: “The Western Left risks getting left behind as the multipolar trend begins to shift US hegemonism and imperialism to the margins.”
Jenny concludes by recommending the book as a weapon against the New Cold War; a “tool for activists to get ready to grasp the great changes that are unfolding.”
The East is Still Red – Chinese socialism in the 21st century can be purchased in paperback or digital editions from Praxis Press.
Back in 2017, following Trump’s election, Xi Jinping made a landmark observation that ‘the world is in the midst of great changes unseen in a century’.
At that time, there were only a handful of us on the Left here in Britain seriously following China – connecting now and then to a few other individuals in Europe, in North America.
As Trump went on to unleash his trade and technology wars, disrupting 40 relatively tranquil years of US-China engagement, we found ourselves deluged in hostility, struggling to stay sane in an environment awash with crazy lies and disinformation – about the Hong Kong ‘democracy’ movement, the Uighurs, the so-called ‘Wuhan virus’ – unleashing Sinophobia. Distinct among racisms, this gives the ‘threatening hordes’ a leader, imagining behind every Chinese lurks a demonic Fu Manchu. We began to network.
Then came Pompeo’s speech at the Nixon Centre in July 2020 – “Securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time” he declared. Our networks sprang into action – first No Cold War, then the International Manifesto Group, initiated by Radhika Desai (whose book on Coronavirus, Capitalism and War we launched here just over a month ago), and also Friends of Socialist China.
At the heart of all this activity was Carlos, – technician-in-chief, social media whizz, networker extraordinaire – pulling together panels from across continents – not just the man in the engine room but one of the key architects in shaping the arguments to challenge the anti-China narratives.
Reading the book for me is like re-living the last few years as the debates and discussions developed: countering the line of ‘neither Washington nor Beijing’ with analysis of a New Cold War; exposing the myth of Uighur genocide as a manufactured campaign based on manufactured evidence; marking the 100th anniversary of the CPC in 2021 – the eradication of poverty, the story of survival even as the Soviet Union collapsed. 2021 saw the hostile spotlight trained on China at COP 26, and in 2022, Biden unleashed his aggressive ideological war of world division.
With this book Carlos does battle with the New Cold War, doing a real service in covering these bases in a clear, readable and thorough fashion: the arguments are solid, grounded in facts and supported by judicious academic referencing : they demolish the ‘China as imperialist’ contention; they expose the superficiality of the notion of Deng’s capitalist restoration; and they reveal step by step how, behind China’s spectacular rise, lies the socialist direction taken forward by a Communist Party applying Marxism as it prioritises the interests of the people. Albeit that this path took some wild zigzags before reaching a workable balance between state and market, class struggle and developing the productive forces – again covered in the book.
Here also in a series of carefully selected quotes is an introduction to the thinking of the CPC.
For myself I’m not so bothered about defending China – China can look after itself – it is those of us trapped amidst this increasingly ruthless capitalist decay that I worry about.
With the burdens of economic failure piling up on people, China is being presented as an existential threat to the Western way of life so as to prepare a climate for war. The lies and misinformation raise anxieties amidst dramatic global events – but more than this, these lies disempower, cutting people off not only from China but generally from the Global South and their more positive views of the country’s growing strength.
It is not possible now to understand what is happening in the world without understanding China – how it hastens multipolarity opening spaces for progressive solutions to global crises, for anti-imperialist advance and indeed for socialism.
As China and the Global South generally start to take off together in these new directions, people in the West are being hoodwinked out of their future – left isolated from potential alternatives, trapped in the cul-de-sac of racist myths of the indispensable West.
With people are uncertain about the future, the Left meanwhile is fragmented unable to help them find the way out of their predicament.
As Carlos makes clear much of the Western Left tends to absorb and reflect the misdirections of the Western political classes – there is opportunism, there is ultra-Leftism as well as social democratic Rightism, there is the deep-rooted Western-centrism – and there is altogether a lack of grounding.
The job of the Left is to find the way forward by consolidating the lessons of history- this is important because it is the way to identify the particular context or conjuncture and from this to formulate the concrete demands to address people’s problems appropriate to the times.
Unless it grasps this context, the Western Left risks getting left behind as the multipolar trend begins to shift US hegemonism and imperialism to the margins. Without this particular context for advance, calls for international solidarity of the working class are reduced to empty – utopian – sloganising.
So for me, it is not that China’s socialist path is our path, the need to clear away the debris of misinformation and distraction – as I see it – is so as to understand how China is shaping our context of multipolarity, that is, to understand the meaning of China’s rise – all the better to see how to join the progressive global trend.
China’s meaning is rooted in its long-term socialist trajectory. Significantly, Carlos demonstrates this – showing the underlying continuity between Deng and Mao and the 1949 revolution as well as nailing down the differences between Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping in their approach to ‘reform and opening up’. The point is that these provide the historical grounding essential to understanding the meaning of China, situating China – and socialism – in the concrete context in which anti-imperialism seeks to advance in the world today.
The book takes us up to the present, finally pointing to the changes ahead: for China, the path towards common prosperity; internationally the dangers of militarisation. The relentlessness of Biden’s militarised splitting of the world is getting quite frightening: Kissinger gives a US-China war 5 to 10 years but the risk is growing ever more present. The US elite has convinced itself that China is intent on taking over the world, just as Fu Manchu threatened to disintegrate Western civilisation back in 1912.
At the same time, amidst the failures of the US and the West, the pace of multipolarisation is breathtaking.
Anyway the point I wish to make is this is not about so much about forging a clique of true believers – a ‘China is best’ sect – if the book is a weapon against the New Cold War, I would see it as a guide within the Left, a tool for activists to get ready to grasp the great changes that are unfolding.
So to all of you I say: here are the key arguments, here is the basis – read, digest, catch up – the networks need to grow; they need to grow exponentially.
And to Carlos – change is coming at such a pace and staying abreast is a huge amount of work, a day by day pressure as I well know – so just keep it up, more chapters are waiting to be written even as we speak!