This article by Irish journalist and former hunger striker Tommy McKearney, first published in Socialist Voice, assesses the deepening economic and political crisis of global capitalism – a crisis which is evolving into a full-blown crisis of legitimacy, given a powerful new factor: “the presence of a viable alternative in the east, that is, the People’s Republic of China.”
McKearney describes China’s growing weight in international relations, writing that it “has now become a leading influence in three of the world’s most important regions, and has done so without the use of military expansionism.” China’s multipolar strategy, and its consistent adherence to the principles of non-interference and win-win cooperation, have earned it the trust and support of much of the Global South. As far as the imperialist ruling classes are concerned, this constitutes more than just an economic problem: “A deeper concern is that the Communist Party of China has overseen the development of an economic template that is much more successful than that promoted by free-marketeers.”
The imperialists’ response to this crisis is the initiation of a reckless New Cold War – a strategy of hegemonism and hybrid warfare which is now more-or-less a consensus position in the corridors of power in Washington and London.
Referring to some of the Western left’s previous criticisms and misunderstandings of Chinese socialism, McKearney concludes his article with a significant comment: “Whatever view we took in the past about the Chinese path to socialism, it is incumbent upon us now to give adequate consideration to developments in that amazing country where the East is still glowing red.”
Over the past few months the public, or at least a section of it, has been watching with interest the trials and tribulations of two high-profile political demagogues. We refer, of course, to the arraignment of Donald Trump and the British House of Commons voting to censure Boris Johnson.
Yet in spite of what appeared to be damning indictments against both men, they have not been completely ostracised. Mainstream conservatives in both the United States and Britain have deliberately avoided outright condemnation of their actions. It is important to analyse the reason for this reluctance, as it casts a light on significant developments internationally.
The capitalist ruling class, led from the United States and embedded in Western Europe, has had more than two centuries to perfect techniques for retaining power. For the most part they prefer to create the appearance of governing by consensus. They do, after all, control the means of production, giving them enormous influence over employment, thereby facilitating the divide-and-rule strategy used to split working-class communities.
Moreover, ownership of the mass media allows for the creation of a self-justifying narrative. Granting the people a vote every few years lends the appearance of legitimacy to all of this.
Yet since capitalism is crisis-prone, its masters always want to have options if and when the desired equilibrium is upended. At the extreme this means a resort to fascism. Before crossing that particular Rubicon, however, they prefer the option of employing demagoguery, now known as populism. The objective is to bamboozle a critical number among the disenchanted and disadvantaged into supporting right-wing governments, even more so to endorse reactionary policies at home and abroad.
Global capitalism is at present experiencing just such a crisis. Unwilling to prevent price-gouging profit-making by private enterprise, the United States, the European Union and Britain are all, to a greater or lesser extent, experiencing persistent inflation. As a consequence, working-class people everywhere experience hardship. On the one hand they suffer as a result of the ever-rising cost of living; workers further suffer, as economic recession is deliberately induced by central bankers employing the blunt expedient of raising interest rates.
In the process it becomes clear that the free-market system is again faced with major problems. Worse still from capitalism’s point of view is the presence of a viable alternative in the east, that is, the People’s Republic of China.
The influence of China on the global stage is growing almost daily, both in its diplomatic clout and its economic prowess. Reflect for a moment on some of its recent achievements. Most notable was sponsoring an accord between Iran and Saudi Arabia—two major Middle Eastern countries that the United States had managed to keep at odds for years, and now the Chinese-inspired détente has potentially altered the balance of power in the region.
There was also the visit in April of the president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, on a state visit for talks with Xi Jinping, after which Lula criticised the United States for prolonging the war in Ukraine.
Then last year, at a meeting between Chinese diplomats and senior government ministers from several African states, including South Africa, a motion was endorsed reaffirming the One China position in relation to Taiwan.
By any reading of world politics, it is easy to recognise the significance of all this. China has now become a leading influence in three of the world’s most important regions, and has done so without the use of military expansionism—a strategy that has avoided bloodshed, and therefore done without antagonising whole populations.
While undoubtedly of grave concern to imperialism’s strategists, it is perhaps the Chinese economic model that is causing them the greatest worry. In a little over two decades China has become an industrial powerhouse, producing 18 per cent of global GDP, compared with 12 per cent for the United States.¹ It’s not surprising, therefore, that this performance is sustained by one of the developed world’s best rates of return on investment.² Moreover, China is also one of the world’s chief creditors, providing capital for infrastructure and industrial projects to 148 countries. Equally significant is the fact, as recorded by the World Bank, that over the past four decades poverty has been eradicated in People’s China.³
Therefore, it is not just the growing diplomatic influence enjoyed by China that is alarming capitalist super-powers: a deeper concern is that the Communist Party of China has overseen the development of an economic template that is much more successful than that promoted by free-marketeers. For Western capitalism, this raises a disturbing scenario. They fear that, faced with periodic economic recessions, distressed working-class communities will demand the adoption of the Chinese economic model.
Confronted by the spectre of successful “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era,” the response of Western capitalism has been predictable. Widespread and unrelenting hostility towards China is now the order of the day as the groundwork is being prepared for a new Cold War. An era of McCarthy-like paranoia is being generated by insinuating the existence of an all-pervasive Chinese espionage capacity. Huawei, Tiktok and Wechat, for example, are deemed capable of monitoring the every movement and the correspondence of those using their technology.
Consequently, Washington, London and Brussels are co-ordinating efforts to contain China’s so-called ambition to expand its orbit. Whatever other differences exist between them, they are in agreement on this issue. Moreover, such is the degree of consensus over the entire gamut of capitalism’s apologists that erstwhile political opponents find common ground on this issue. Donald Trump’s hostility towards China is matched, if not outdone, by that of Joe Biden. By the same token, there is no criticism of China emanating from Boris Johnson that Rishi Sunak does not share.
Hence the constructive ambiguity employed by much of the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic in relation to the two loud-mouthed demagogues. They are viewed as an “ace in the hole” to be introduced if required to once again mislead sections of the working class.
There is a lesson in this for the left. The capitalist ruling class and its political front-persons are deeply conscious of the possibility, indeed probability, that we are experiencing a transformative period in world history. Whatever view we took in the past about the Chinese path to socialism, it is incumbent upon us now to give adequate consideration to developments in that amazing country where the East is still glowing red.
- World Economics, “China’s share of global GDP” (https://tinyurl.com/375xrjk2).
- John Ross, “Why China’s socialist economy is more efficient than capitalism,” MR Online (https://tinyurl.com/yuuh2syp).
- World Bank, “Lifting 800 million people out of poverty: New report looks at lessons from China’s experience” (https://tinyurl.com/mr2wuduf).