On Sunday 13 August 2023, Friends of Socialist China, the International Manifesto Group, Midwestern Marx and Critical Theory Workshop jointly held an online book launch for Carlos Martinez’s The East is Still Red: Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century.
Speakers included Carlos Martinez, Ben Chacko (editor of the Morning Star), Chen Weihua (China Daily EU bureau chief), Amanda Yee (writer and podcaster), Dan Kovalik (author of NICARAGUA: A History of US Intervention and Resistance), Sara Flounders (author of SANCTIONS – A Wrecking Ball in a Global Economy) and Charles Xu of Qiao Collective. The event was chaired by Professor Radhika Desai.
In Carlos’s introduction, he focused on debunking the notion that China has become an imperialist country, describing this as a powerfully demobilising idea at a time when we should be uniting the broadest possible forces against the US-led New Cold War. Carlos posed the following questions about China: Does it seek to dominate foreign markets, land, labour and resources? Does it use its economic strength to dictate policy or assert hegemony over poorer countries? Does it go to war in pursuit of its economic interests? Does it engage in regime change, destabilisation, unilateral sanctions and economic coercion, in pursuit of its economic interests?
Carlos argued that the answer to all these questions is a resounding no. He pointed out that China has not been involved in a war in over four decades, and does not have a global infrastructure of military bases or troop deployments. He also pointed out that China does not engage in regime change, destabilisation or unilateral sanctions, and has never used its economic strength to dictate policy or assert hegemony over poorer countries. He contrasted this with the record of the US and its allies – a record of military, economic and political imperialism.
Ben Chacko pointed out that it is crucial to develop a better understanding of China at the current time, in the context of rising US hostility and an emerging New Cold War. Highlighting the Biden regime’s extreme inconsistency in its China policy – on the one hand saying that it wants a cooperative relationship, and on the other hand undermining the One China Principle and escalating attempts at containment and encirclement – Ben noted that the US isn’t at all sure of its ability to actually win a Cold War against China. As such, it is making preparations for a potential hot war on China, which would clearly be disastrous for humanity.
Ben recommended The East is Still Red for its debunking of several key anti-China myths and its detailed analysis of Chinese socialism. He said that, for decades, Westerners on both left and right have tended to consider China as having become a capitalist country. However, this narrative falls far short given that no capitalist country has come anywhere near to China’s achievements on poverty reduction, renewable energy, and improving people’s living standards.
Chen Weihua congratulated Carlos for his hard work tackling the anti-China propaganda narrative which seeks to smear China and build popular support for anti-China strategy. In terms of raising people’s living standards – to a level where China’s life expectancy, educational standards and healthcare standards are now comparable with those of the advanced countries – what China has achieved is nothing short of a miracle. This reflects the fact that the Chinese government, both in the Mao era and the post-1978 reform era, has always been people-centred and committed to improving people’s lives. Weihua noted that China’s methods may be considered as unorthodox when compared to previous socialist experiments, but this is a reminder that socialism can’t be dogmatic but must be adapted and developed on the basis of the demands of the specific place and time.
Chen Weihua referred back to Carlos’s introduction in relation to the accusations of China being an imperialist country, stating that “no Chinese wants China to become imperialist, because of the bitter memory they have of being oppressed and exploited by imperialist countries.” China regards itself as a developing country, and consistently takes up the interests of developing countries as a whole. China has learned some lessons and made some achievements in its development process, and it hopes other countries of the Global South will be able to replicate its success while avoiding its mistakes.
Amanda Yee discussed the rising McCarthyite repression that’s accompanying the New Cold War, drawing parallels between it and the original Cold War. Anyone in the US that opposes the encirclement of China, or who simply believes that the US should honour the One China Policy, is being branded as a “shadowy actor” taking orders from the CPC.
Amanda noted that Carlos’s book is a crucial resource for debunking the assorted anti-China myths endlessly repeated in the media. The book uncovers the reality of the New Cold War – a sustained conflict between the forces of imperialism and the forces of socialism and multipolarity – and is unapologetic in identifying the real enemy in the situation: the US-led imperialist system.
Dan Kovalik reflected that, in the 1980s, much of the left totally misunderstood what was taking place in China: they saw the embrace of markets as a move away from socialism, when in fact it was part of a strategy to protect and evolve socialism. More than three decades after the tragic collapse of the Soviet Union, Chinese socialism has proven itself to be remarkably durable, and continues to deliver for its people. There’s simply no comparison between China in 1949 and China today; in terms of living standards, educational level and development level, it’s the biggest leap the world has ever seen.
Dan contrasted China’s policies with those of the US, citing Jimmy Carter: China hasn’t been at war since 1979, whereas the US has been at war practically non-stop since 1776. Carter stated that China has all these high speed trains and the US has none – because the US devotes its resources to the pursuit of war, not making life better for its people. Dan called on the audience to unite in opposition to the New Cold War, pointing out that China wants to have a cooperative and mutually-beneficial relationship with the West, focused on tackling humanity’s shared challenges.
Sara Flounders congratulated Carlos on providing a valuable contribution to the discussion among Marxists as to the nature of China’s political system and China’s role in the world. With over a thousand footnotes, the arguments put forward in The East is Still Red are backed up with evidence.
Referencing the chapter on propaganda war, Sara mentioned that she had visited Xinjiang in June this year, and found the reality there totally at odds with the slanders one finds in the Western media. It’s clear that Uyghur and other ethnicities in Xinjiang enjoy freedom of worship and of cultural expression. Their languages are protected and promoted, are found on every street sign, and are taught in schools; this stands in stark contrast to minority languages in much of the capitalist world. Visiting rural areas of Xinjiang, Sara found that agricultural work is almost entirely mechanised, giving the lie to the accusation that it’s based on slave labour. Sara spoke of the need to firmly counter this insidious propaganda campaign, which is orchestrated to a significant degree by the US state.
Charles Xu of Qiao Collective commended The East is Still Red as part of a long tradition of books written by non-Chinese people to tell the truth about, and stand in solidarity with, China. He spoke of having recently visited Cuba and Venezuela and finding that, as a person of Chinese origin, people were often keen to discuss China with him. The widely held sentiment was that China stands with progressive Latin America, and provides crucial support to Cuba and Venezuela, in addition to working towards a multipolar system of international relations.
Charles stated that the first chapter of the book – No Great Wall: On the Continuities of the Chinese Revolution – is particularly important, challenging two seemingly contradictory lines: the repudiation of the Mao era as a historical aberration; and the idealisation of the Mao period and the repudiation of the reform period as a betrayal of socialism. The first of these ideas ignores the enormous and unprecedented progress that was made between 1949 and 1978, a period in which China’s average life expectancy increased by more than 30 years, the age-old feudal system wiped out, education and healthcare made available to everybody, and the position of women improved beyond recognition. The second of these ideas ignores the lived reality of the vast majority of the Chinese people, who have witnessed a vertiginous improvement in their living standards in the period since 1978.
Responding to the other speakers, Carlos observed that the meeting was taking place on the 97th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth, and that Fidel had seriously studied and understood Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Carlos quoted Fidel’s comment in 1993: “If you want to talk about socialism, you must not forget what socialism has done in China. Once it was a country of hunger, poverty, disasters — today there is none of that. Today China feeds, clothes, cares for, and educates 1.2 billion people… I think China is a socialist country, and Vietnam is a socialist country as well. And they insist that they’ve introduced all the necessary reforms, precisely to stimulate development and to continue advancing towards the objectives of socialism.”
The video stream of the event is embedded below.