International Publishers, the Marxist book publishing company based in New York City, celebrated its centenary with a day-long syposium on 26 October 2023, held at NYU Libraries. Among those addressing the event were Gerald Horne, the revolutionary feminist scholar Elisabeth Armstrong, West African history specialist Dennis Laumann, and International Publishers vice-president Tony Pecinovsky. A summary of the event was published in People’s World.
Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez attended via Zoom, giving a presentation on the subject of “International Publishers, the Chinese Revolution, and world socialism”, in which he gave an overview of the role played by International Publishers and associated communist publishing houses in raising awareness of the Chinese Revolution in its early phases.
The presentation also touches on the Sino-Soviet split and its impact on relations between the Western left and China. Carlos posits that we are in an ongoing important process of overcoming the Sino-Soviet split, and that “International Publishers has a key role to play in this process… Its recent publication of China’s Economic Dialectic by Cheng Enfu – one of China’s foremost Marxist scholars – is an exciting step forward, particularly as there are so few good books available in the English language about modern Chinese Marxism.”
The speech also briefly discusses the issue of the social character of the People’s Republic of China, and the importance of opposing the US-led New Cold War.
The full text of the presentation is reproduced below.
Many thanks for inviting me to participate in today’s event. It’s an honour to be with you.
The progressive movement in the United States, and other parts of the Western world, has a long history of solidarity with the Chinese Revolution and the project of building socialism in China, and of telling people the truth about China.
International Publishers – and the CPUSA – blazed a trail in this regard. In the case of International Publishers, support for Red China goes back almost to the very beginning of its history, for example printing in 1937 the first North American edition of Mao Zedong’s famous essay On Practice.
Other publishing houses with which IP worked closely – New Century Publishers and Workers Library Publishers – also printed a number of titles in solidarity with China during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, including China’s Fight for National Liberation and Hell Over Shanghai.
In 1945, William Z Foster wrote the foreword to the volume Fight for a New China, based on Mao’s report to the Seventh National Congress of the CPC.
A number of theoretical works were also published in English for the first time, including Liu Shaoqi’s On Inner-Party Struggle and Mao Zedong’s On New Democracy.
A great many prominent communists and anti-imperialists in the US threw their weight behind China’s liberation.
The great African-American activist, linguist and performer Paul Robeson became widely known in China for his powerful rendition in Chinese of the March of the Volunteers, the song that was to become, and remains, the national anthem of the People’s Republic. Robeson first recorded the song in 1941, with a chorus made up of Chinese workers in New York. The proceeds from the gramophone record went to support China’s war effort against Japanese invasion.
The sociologist Dr WEB DuBois, one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century, who joined the CPUSA in 1961 – at the tender age of 93 – forged a profound friendship with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders.
In the late 1930s, the CPUSA joined with the Communist Party of Canada to send Dr Norman Bethune to the frontline in China, where he was instrumental in setting up the system of “barefoot doctors”, training ordinary peasants to provide primary medical care. He died a martyr in 1939 while stationed with the Eighth Route Army in Shanxi Province, and became the embodiment of revolutionary internationalism for the people of China and beyond. In his eulogy, Mao wrote: “Every communist must learn the true communist spirit from Comrade Bethune.”
Claudia Jones, the Trinidadian-born CPUSA leader who was deported to Britain in 1955, was another great friend of China. Indeed China was the last country she visited before her death in 1964, at the tragically young age of 49. On that trip she met with some of China’s top leadership, including Mao Zedong and Song Qingling – the widow of Sun Yat-Sen and an important leader in her own right.
And just as US communists have stood with the Chinese Revolution, so Chinese communists have stood in solidarity with workers and oppressed peoples in the US.
For example, on 29 July 1945, Mao sent a telegram to William Z Foster, hailing the revival of the CPUSA following the defeat of Earl Browder’s program of dissolution and capitulation to monopoly capitalism.
In August 1963, at the request of Robert F Williams and Mabel Williams, Mao issued his famous statement on the US’s pervasive and systemic racism, which concluded with the powerful words:
“The evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of black people and the trade in black people, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the black people.”
The relationship of solidarity between Chinese and US radicals was deepened as a result of the Red Scare and the emergence of the Cold War. It’s telling that Senator Joseph McCarthy first made a name for himself by spearheading the attacks on those Democratic Party politicians deemed responsible for the so-called ‘loss of China’ to communism in 1949.
The most reactionary, hawkish, conservative elements of the US ruling class defined their key enemies as: the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, the CPUSA, and the blossoming movement for black liberation.
However, history never moves in a straight line.
International Publishers and associated publishing houses put out very little material on China in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. This was of course primarily a function of the Sino-Soviet split, which started to emerge in the late 1950s and which remains one of the greatest setbacks our global movement has faced.
Those communist parties in the West that remained broadly pro-Soviet – including the CPUSA – largely lost contact with revolutionary China. With the emergence of the New Communist Movement in the 1960s and 70s, it was other parties and organisations that devoted significant efforts to solidarity with China in this period. The Sino-Soviet split manifested itself in similar ways in countries around the world, with some parties siding the Soviet Union and others with China.
Looking back at that period, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that both the Soviet Union and China made mistakes – as did their friends and supporters in the West – and that the split in the global movement could and should have been avoided. As Deng Xiaoping put it to Gorbachev in 1989, when relations between China and the USSR were finally normalised, “there was a lot of empty talk on both sides.”
In that speech, Deng pointed out that the ideological differences that emerged between the CPC and CPSU were fundamentally to do with the extraordinarily complex and novel task of building socialism in extremely difficult circumstances – a world that continues to be dominated by imperialism.
Deng said: “Nobody was clear about exactly what changes had taken place over the century since Marx’s death or about how to understand and develop Marxism in light of those changes… After a successful revolution each country must build socialism according to its own conditions. There are not and cannot be fixed models.”
He adds: “We no longer think that everything we said at that time was right.”
Even though there were serious and important differences over strategy, these didn’t need to result in a fundamental split. As Kim Il Sung commented to China’s vice premier Li Xiannian in December 1965: “Yes, the Soviet leaders are revisionists, but are they enemies?”
But Deng made another insightful comment in his discussion with Gorbachev: that the Chinese side felt they were not treated as equals and felt humiliated.
This relates to a complex dynamic that still needs further investigation and discussion within our movement, particularly in the West, particularly in imperialist countries or countries that have historically engaged in national oppression.
China’s liberation put an end to the century of humiliation, in which the Chinese people had been reduced to semi-colonial status and conditions of war, chaos and misery. One of the countries imposing unequal treaties on, and seizing territory from, China was Russia – an imperialist power up until 1917.
In that context it was understandable that the Chinese leadership were sensitive to and took offence to not being treated as equals, to being expected to acquiesce to the Soviet Union’s sole leadership of the world communist movement, and to European Marxists perhaps not really understanding the historic significance of the expansion of the socialist world to Asia, to the oppressed countries, to the victims of colonialism.
These issues are remnants of deeper underlying problems which our movement inherited from capitalism, and which remain part of capitalist ideological hegemony: eurocentrism and racism.
And these are problems that, several decades later, haven’t disappeared, that still rear their ugly heads within parts of the Western left. As such, it’s important to revisit this history and see if we can use it to improve our work in the here and now.
In the decades since the tragic demise of the Soviet Union, many parties have taken the time to reassess their understanding of China, and the CPUSA has been a good example of this. These days the CPC and CPUSA have close bilateral relations, and there is an increasing appetite amongst progressive people in the US to understand Chinese socialism and China’s role in the construction of a multipolar system of international relations.
International Publishers has a key role to play in this process, and its recent publication of China’s Economic Dialectic by Cheng Enfu – one of China’s foremost Marxist scholars – is an exciting step forward, particularly as there are so few good books available in the English language about modern Chinese Marxism.
I think it’s significant that the book contains a foreword from John Bellamy Foster, the editor of Monthly Review. While Monthly Review was never ‘Maoist’ as such, it basically oriented towards China during the split. Perhaps the cooperation today indicates that the project of understanding China, building solidarity with China and opposing the imperialist strategy of encircling and containing China is a becoming a unifying factor for the best elements of the left, from different traditions.
Indeed one could argue that this is a component of the long process of our global movement overcoming the Sino-Soviet split. Cheng Enfu touches on this dynamic in his book:
“The Sino-Soviet debate led to a deterioration of the relations between the two parties and countries and to a split in the international communist movement, with the divisions then being utilised by the United States and other Western countries to attack Marxism, socialism, and the communist movement as a whole. The lessons of this experience were painful, and still need to be subject to reflection.”
Capitalist or socialist?
Of course, one of the most important aspects of understanding and explaining China is addressing the question of whether it’s a socialist or a capitalist country. In terms of our participation in the global class struggle, this is a crucial question.
Neoliberal economists say that China between 1949 and 1978 was a disaster, and then it introduced capitalism and has been a big success ever since. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those on the left that see markets and private capital and integration into global value chains and also conclude that China has become a capitalist country.
It’s a curious irony that the right and the ultra-left are basically aligned in assessing that China has gone capitalist. And, by extension, that China’s progress is capitalist progress.
China has ended extreme poverty in a vast Asian country of 1.4 billion people which, only a few decades ago, was one of the poorest countries in the world. China has emerged as the pre-eminent global leader in renewable energy and biodiversity protection. Living standards for ordinary Chinese people have improved beyond recognition. And this has been achieved without recourse to the imperialist playbook: wars, proxy wars, sanctions, coercion, destabilisation, extortion and intimidation.
If we are socialists – if we defend socialism and Marxism, and are working towards socialism in our own countries – then it seems frankly absurd for us to attribute China’s successes to capitalism.
We should ask why it’s China that has made this extraordinary progress – why a developing country like China rather than an advanced country like the US can solve the problem of homelessness, or can rapidly emerge as a world leader in solar power. These questions can’t be usefully answered without recognising that China’s economy continues to be essentially planned; that the state continues to hold the major economic levers; and that China’s capitalists do not constitute a ruling class, are not allowed to organise as a class, are not allowed to set up a political party to represent their specific interests, and are therefore unable to impose their will on society.
In his introduction to Cheng Enfu’s book, Bellamy Foster observes that: “Central to the Chinese socialist market system, still governed by five year plans, is the large role of state and collective property, and the continuing strategic dominance of the state sector over the private sector – while leaving room for the latter to prosper and help guide economic development within the parameters set by the state and under the leadership of the CPC.”
Professor Cheng is adamant:
“The reform and development of China’s economic system has always proceeded under the guidance of Marxist economic theory, while adhering to the principles of socialism… Reform has not involved changing the nature of the socialist system, and development does not mean copying foreign development models… The implementation of a socialist market economic system, that combines the basic socialist system with the market economy, is a great initiative in the historical development of scientific socialism and a major theoretical innovation to Marxist political economy.”
Opposing the New Cold War
Additionally to – albeit connected with – the question of the social character of the People’s Republic of China, is the current geopolitical situation: we find ourselves in a complex and dangerous moment of escalating hostility directed towards China by the imperialist powers.
This New Cold War has several components, including a trade war, a propaganda war, sanctions, tariffs, slanders, and assorted forms of economic coercion and attempts to stifle China’s economic development. It also contains a military and geostrategic component, including the creation of the AUKUS trilateral pact; the rearmament of Japan; military aid to Taiwan; the encouragement of Taiwanese separatism; and the stationing of tens of thousands of troops and advanced weaponry in South Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Guam.
There is a vocal element of the US ruling class that understands that Cold War tactics aren’t working; that sanctions, tariffs and slanders aren’t going to stop China’s rise, and that ultimately the pursuance of the Project for a New American Century will require a hot war – which needless to say would be utterly disastrous for humanity.
Meanwhile even Cold War tensions are tremendously harmful at a time when we so desperately need global cooperation in the face of serious existential threats – climate change, pandemics, antimicrobial resistance and the threat of nuclear war.
So countering anti-China propaganda has a particular relevance and urgency today, and I’m sure International Publishers will continue to play an important role in building greater understanding of China’s politics, economics, history and culture, and in so doing, make its contribution to peace and socialism.