Four charts on the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China

We are reproducing this important analysis by economist Michael Burke from Socialist Economic Bulletin, with permission.


The Communist Party of China was founded on July 1, 1921. In a short series of graphs this note aims to highlight some of the consequences of that decision for China and the world. In particular, the trends in rapid growth in Chinese living standards after the Chinese Revolution is highlighted in a way that is designed to be more readily understood in societies where nothing similar to this has taken place over a similar timescale.

Background

The Communist Party of China was founded after a series of attempts by young radicals and nationalists to agitate against foreign domination of the country. In 1839, Britain invaded China and there followed a ‘century of humiliation’ as it was territorially and economically carved up among the Western imperial powers.

One aspect demonstrating the degree of that humiliation was the enormous decline in living standards under British Empire-led rule.  This is shown in Chart 1 below (all data from Angus Maddison, unless otherwise stated).

Chart.1 Per Capita GDP in China in the Century of Humiliation, Int’l $

Under rule by foreign powers, China’s per capita GDP fell over a period of a hundred years (1850 to 1950) from $600 to $448. By contrast, and for comparison, British per capita GDP rose from $2,330 to $6,939 over the same period.

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From 30 million cases to zero: China is certified malaria-free by WHO

We are republishing this press release from the World Health Organization (WHO) certifying China as malaria-free. This is an extraordinary achievement and a testament to China’s people-centred public health strategy. We also note that China is working with several other countries to share its experience in support of their anti-malaria efforts.

Following a 70-year effort, China has been awarded a malaria-free certification from WHO – a notable feat for a country that reported 30 million cases of the disease annually in the 1940s.

“Today we congratulate the people of China on ridding the country of malaria,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Their success was hard-earned and came only after decades of targeted and sustained action. With this announcement, China joins the growing number of countries that are showing the world that a malaria-free future is a viable goal.”

China is the first country in the WHO Western Pacific Region to be awarded a malaria-free certification in more than 3 decades. Other countries in the region that have achieved this status include Australia (1981), Singapore (1982) and Brunei Darussalam (1987).

“Congratulations to China on eliminating malaria,” said Dr Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director, WHO Western Pacific Regional Office. “China’s tireless effort to achieve this important milestone demonstrates how strong political commitment and strengthening national health systems can result in eliminating a disease that once was a major public health problem. China’s achievement takes us one step closer towards the vision of a malaria-free Western Pacific Region.”

Globally, 40 countries and territories have been granted a malaria-free certification from WHO – including, most recently, El Salvador (2021), Algeria (2019), Argentina (2019), Paraguay (2018) and Uzbekistan (2018).

China’s elimination journey

Beginning in the 1950s, health authorities in China worked to locate and stop the spread of malaria by providing preventive antimalarial medicines for people at risk of the disease as well as treatment for those who had fallen ill. The country also made a major effort to reduce mosquito breeding grounds and stepped up the use of insecticide spraying in homes in some areas.

In 1967, the Chinese Government launched the “523 Project” – a nation-wide research programme aimed at finding new treatments for malaria. This effort, involving more than 500 scientists from 60 institutions, led to the discovery in the 1970s of artemisinin – the core compound of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), the most effective antimalarial drugs available today.

“Over many decades, China’s ability to think outside the box served the country well in its own response to malaria, and also had a significant ripple effect globally,” notes Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. “The Government and its people were always searching for new and innovative ways to accelerate the pace of progress towards elimination.”

In the 1980s, China was one of the first countries in the world to extensively test the use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) for the prevention of malaria, well before nets were recommended by WHO for malaria control. By 1988, more than 2.4 million nets had been distributed nation-wide. The use of such nets led to substantial reductions in malaria incidence in the areas where they were deployed.   

By the end of 1990, the number of malaria cases in China had plummeted to 117 000, and deaths were reduced by 95%. With support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, beginning in 2003, China stepped up training, staffing, laboratory equipment, medicines and mosquito control, an effort that led to a further reduction in cases; within 10 years, the number of cases had fallen to about 5000 annually.

In 2020, after reporting 4 consecutive years of zero indigenous cases, China applied for an official WHO certification of malaria elimination. Members of the independent Malaria Elimination Certification Panel travelled to China in May 2021 to verify the country’s malaria-free status as well as its programme to prevent re-establishment of the disease.

Keys to success

China provides a basic public health service package for its residents free of charge. As part of this package, all people in China have access to affordable services for the diagnosis and treatment of malaria, regardless of legal or financial status.

Effective multi-sector collaboration was also key to success. In 2010, 13 ministries in China – including those representing health, education, finance, research and science, development, public security, the army, police, commerce, industry, information technology, media and tourism – joined forces to end malaria nationwide.

In recent years, the country further reduced its malaria caseload through a strict adherence to the timelines of the “1-3-7” strategy. The “1” signifies the one-day deadline for health facilities to report a malaria diagnosis; by the end of day 3, health authorities are required to confirm a case and determine the risk of spread; and, within 7 days, appropriate measures must be taken to prevent further spread of the disease.

Keeping malaria at bay

The risk of imported cases of malaria remains a key concern, particularly in southern Yunnan Province, which borders 3 malaria-endemic countries: Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Viet Nam. China also faces the challenge of imported cases among Chinese nationals returning from sub-Saharan Africa and other malaria-endemic regions.

To prevent re-establishment of the disease, the country has stepped up its malaria surveillance in at-risk zones and has engaged actively in regional malaria control initiatives. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, China has maintained trainings for health providers through an online platform and held virtual meetings for the exchange of information on malaria case investigations, among other topics.

China stands on the side of the developing world

Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 25 June 2021:

In the five decades since joining the United Nations, China has upheld the legitimate rights and interests of fellow developing countries and spoken up for the developing world. Past, present and in the future, China always stands together with developing countries. China’s vote in the United Nations is always for the well-being of developing countries and for justice in the world.

Speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC

The following is the main body of a speech delivered by Friends of Socialist China Co-Editor Keith Bennett at a dinner held in West London on Sunday June 27 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.

The event was organised and hosted by Third World Solidarity and its Chair, Mushtaq Lasharie, a distinguished political and social activist in Pakistan and Britain. It was attended by a number of prominent members of the Pakistani community in Britain and veteran friends of China from various walks of life.

This coming Thursday, July 1st, marks the Communist Party of China’s centenary.

Whatever your opinions, this is an important occasion. This party has a membership of some 92 million people. Considerably greater than the entire population of the UK. It leads a country of 1.4 billion people. That country is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and is the world’s second largest economy. By some measures it is already the largest economy. Whether it be international financial crisis, pandemic, climate change or regional hotspots, the management and solution of global problems cannot today be considered separate from the role of China.

To take this snapshot of where China is today is to reflect on the extraordinary journey this country has undergone since some 13 people, representing a little over 50 members, met in Shanghai, a city then under the effective control of foreign imperialists, in conditions of great secrecy and danger, to found the communist party.

With a history of some 5,000 years, China is the world’s longest, continuous and recorded civilisation. Its origins are roughly contemporaneous with the Indus Valley civilisation centred on today’s Sindh province in Pakistan. Many of the world’s great inventions, such as printing, the compass, gunpowder (which the Chinese used for fireworks not for military purposes) and countless others originated from China. If one looks at the last twenty centuries of human history, China was the largest economy in the world for about 17 of them. The other biggest economy was that of an obviously pre-partitioned India. Together these civilisations traded with their counterparts as far as Europe along the ancient silk routes that in considerable measure prefigure today’s Belt and Road Initiative.

However, history does not develop in a straight line but according to a process of uneven development.

Western powers, in time followed by Japan, embarked on a process of colonial expansion, dividing the wealth and riches of the world amongst themselves and fuelling their industrial revolutions.

China, in turn, under the rule of feudal dynasties, fell into a period of complacency, stagnation and decline. It was ripe for picking by greedy, rapacious imperialist powers.

Whilst never completely colonised China became a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country. Bits of territory were snatched away. Unequal treaties were imposed. Imperialist powers enjoyed extra territorial privileges in major cities and elsewhere. The mass of Chinese people endured unimaginable misery.

Perhaps most criminally of all, British capitalists, organised, for example in the East India Company, forced opium onto the Chinese market, leading to terrible problems of addiction for the Chinese and enormous profits for the British.

When a patriotic Chinese official, Lin Zezu, attempted to stamp out this trade in death the British response was war. In the name of ‘free trade’ of course. Two opium wars resulted in bitter defeats for China, not least the loss of Hong Kong. Those in the Conservative Party, and indeed the Labour Party, who continue to speak of Britain’s supposed ‘responsibilities’ towards the people of Hong Kong should do more to reflect on, and repent for, that shameful history.

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A century of the Communist Party of China: the Cultural Revolution

We are republishing this article by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez, which originally appeared in the Morning Star on 25 June 2021. It is the fourth in a series of articles about the history of the Communist Party of China, which celebrates its centenary on 1 July 2021.


The Cultural Revolution started in 1966 as a mass movement of university and school students, incited and encouraged by Mao and others on the left of the CPC leadership.

Student groups formed in Beijing calling themselves Red Guards and taking up Mao’s call to “thoroughly criticise and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois ideas in the sphere of academic work, education, journalism, literature and art.”

The students produced “big-character posters” (dazibao) setting out their analysis against, and making their demands of, anti-revolutionary bourgeois elements in authority.

Mao produced his own dazibao calling on the revolutionary masses to “Bombard the Headquarters” — that is, to rise up against the reformers and bourgeois elements in the party.

These developments were synthesised by the CPC central committee, which in August 1966 adopted its Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: “Our objective is to struggle against and overthrow those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road; to criticise and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic ‘authorities’ and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art and all other parts of the superstructure not in correspondence with the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.”

Thus the aims of the Cultural Revolution were to stimulate a mass struggle against the supposedly revisionist and capitalist restorationist elements in the party; to put a stop to the hegemony of bourgeois ideas in the realms of education and culture; and to entrench a new culture — socialist, collectivist, modern.

This mass movement, only partially under the control of the party, quickly became chaotic. Universities were closed. Red Guards occupied and ransacked the Foreign Ministry.

Han Suyin describes the atmosphere of the early days of the Cultural Revolution: “Extensive democracy. Great criticism. Wall posters everywhere. Absolute freedom to travel. Freedom to form revolutionary exchanges. These were the rights and freedoms given to the Red Guards, and no wonder it went to their heads and very soon became total licence.”

There was no small amount of violence. Many of those accused by the Cultural Revolution Group (CRG) suffered horrible fates.

Posters appeared with the slogan “Down with Liu Shaoqi! Down with Deng Xiaoping! Hold high the great red banner of Mao Zedong thought.”

Liu’s books were burned in Tiananmen Square. He was expelled from all positions and arrested, interrogated, confined to an unheated cell, and denied medical care. He died under house arrest in 1969.

Peng Dehuai, former Defence Minister and the leader of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army’s operations in the Korean War, had been forced into retirement in 1959 after criticising the Great Leap Forward.

Jiang Qing – Mao’s wife, and a leading figure in the CRG – sent Red Guards to arrest him. He was repeatedly beaten and interrogated, and died in a prison hospital in 1974.

Although Mao had only intended it to last for a few months, the Cultural Revolution only came to its conclusion shortly before Mao’s death in 1976, albeit with varying intensity — realising that the situation was getting out of control, in 1967 Mao called on the army to help establish order and reorganise production. However, the situation flared up again with the ascendancy of the “Gang of Four” from 1972.

Historians in the capitalist countries tend to present the Cultural Revolution in the most facile and vacuous terms. To them, it was simply the quintessential example of Mao’s obsessive love of violence and power; just another episode in the long story of communist authoritarianism. But psychopathology is rarely the principal driving force of history.

In reality, the Cultural Revolution was a radical mass movement. Millions of young people were inspired by the idea of moving faster towards socialism, of putting an end to feudal traditions, of creating a more egalitarian society, of fighting bureaucracy, of preventing the emergence of a capitalist class, of empowering workers and peasants, of making their contribution to a global socialist revolution, of building a proud socialist culture unfettered by thousands of years of Confucian tradition. They wanted a fast track to a socialist future. They were inspired by Mao and his allies, who were in turn inspired by them.

Such a movement can get out of control easily enough, and it did. Mao can’t be considered culpable for every excess, every act of violence, every absurd statement (indeed he intervened at several points to rein it in), but he was broadly supportive of the movement and ultimately did the most to further its aims.

Mao had enormous personal influence – not solely powers granted by the party or state constitutions, but an authority that came from being the chief architect of a revolutionary process that had transformed hundreds of millions of people’s lives for the better. He was as Lenin was to the Soviet people, as Fidel Castro remains to the Cuban people. Even when he made mistakes, these mistakes were liable to be embraced by millions of people.

The Cultural Revolution is now widely understood in China to have been misguided. The political assumptions of the movement — that the party was becoming dominated by counter-revolutionaries and capitalist-roaders; that the capitalist-roaders in the party would have to be overthrown by the masses; that continuous revolution would be required in order to stay on the road to socialism — were explicitly rejected by the post-Mao leadership of the CPC, which pointed out that “the ‘capitalist-roaders’ overthrown … were leading cadres of party and government organisations at all levels, who formed the core force of the socialist cause.”

The turmoil of the Cultural Revolution impeded the country’s development and brought awful tragedy to a significant number of people. What so many historians operating in a capitalist framework fail to understand is why, in spite of the chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution, Mao is still revered in China. For the Chinese people, the bottom line is that his errors were “the errors of a great proletarian revolutionary.”

It was the CPC, led by Mao and on the basis of a political strategy principally devised by him, that China was liberated from foreign rule; that the country was unified; that feudalism was dismantled; that land was distributed to the peasants; that the country was industrialised; that a path to women’s liberation was forged.

The excesses and errors associated with the last years of Mao’s life have to contextualised within this overall picture of unprecedented, transformative progress.

The pre-revolution literacy rate in China was less than 20 percent. By the time Mao died, it was around 93 percent. China’s population had remained stagnant between 400 and 500 million for a hundred years or so up to 1949. By the time Mao died, it had reached 900 million. A thriving culture of literature, music, theatre and art grew up that was accessible to the masses of the people. Land was irrigated. Famine became a thing of the past. Universal healthcare was established. China – after a century of foreign domination – maintained its sovereignty and developed the means to defend itself from imperialist attack.

Hence the “Mao as monster” narrative has little resonance in China. As Deng Xiaoping himself put it, “without Mao’s outstanding leadership, the Chinese revolution would still not have triumphed even today. In that case, the people of all our nationalities would still be suffering under the reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism.”

Furthermore, even the mistakes were not the product of the deranged imagination of a tyrant but, rather, creative attempts to respond to an incredibly complex and evolving set of circumstances. They were errors carried out in the cause of exploring a path to socialism – a historically novel process inevitably involving risk and experimentation.

The Tanzania-Zambia Railway: A Testament to China-Africa Friendship

We’re pleased to republish this article from Global Times, shining a light on a powerful and inspiring episode in the history of China-Africa solidarity.


It was the beginning of the year 1970. News came that Wang Xingguo was about to work on a railway project in Africa. His wife Zhang Yunhua was very reluctant to let him go: Africa is so far away and their sons are still too little — the elder one is three years old and the younger one is only two. Wang tried to explain: He is a cadre, a CPC member; when duty calls, he must be the first to sign up. In October that year, Wang, together with over 1,000 co-workers, got on board the ocean liner Jianhua in Guangzhou and left for Tanzania.

The Civil Affairs Bureau of Taixing City still keeps a copy of an article written by Wang Xingguo in 1971. He began the article with two quotes from Chairman Mao Zedong. One goes, “I am for the slogan ‘fear neither hardship nor death.'” and the other, “China ought to make a greater contribution to humanity.” For Wang, the first quote reflects his attitude; the second explains why he decides to go to Africa.

In Tanzania, Wang Xingguo took part in the construction of the Irangi Number 2 Tunnel. Undeterred by the risks of flood and possible collapse of the soil structure, he was working with frontline workers on the foundation pit of the tunnel portal when the structure suddenly came down. He was buried underneath right away and died from lethal injury despite the best efforts of doctors. For the cause of world revolution, Wang made the ultimate sacrifice. He was only 35 years old.

Chinese and African Workers Building the Railway Together
Chinese and African Workers Building the Railway Together

The Chambeshi River Bridge was the largest railway bridge in Zambia, spanning a length of 267 meters. The river below was 5.6 meters deep. To survey the riverbed, Li Jinyu and three of his colleagues from the Chinese engineer team, jumped into the river without any diving or underwater lighting equipment but only a rope tied around their waists. Repeated exposure to freezing waters caused Takayasu arteritis and permanent loss of sensation in both of Li’s legs. He had to be amputated and was paralyzed for life. Carpenter Cai Jinlong was diagnosed at a late stage of stomach cancer, and threw up everything he tried to eat. Despite the biting pain, he insisted on working on the scaffold and refused to leave his post. When he was finally sent back to his wife in China, Cai was thinned to the bone.

Continue reading The Tanzania-Zambia Railway: A Testament to China-Africa Friendship

Reminder: China’s Path to Zero Poverty (Saturday 26 June)

A reminder that our first webinar takes place on Saturday 26 June, 9am US Eastern / 2pm Britain / 9pm China.

You can register for the Zoom event on Eventbrite.


Details

On 1 July 2021, the Communist Party of China celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding. Of all the CPC has accomplished in that period, the elimination of extreme poverty is unquestionably among its most impressive and historically significant achievements.

In this webinar, academics, politicians, journalists and campaigners from around the world will explore how China has been able to carry out the most extensive poverty alleviation program in history, and what lessons there are for humanity.

Speakers

  • Senator Mushahid Hussain (Chairman, Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and Pakistan-China Institute, Pakistan)
  • Li Jingjing (Reporter for CGTN, China)
  • Utsa Patnaik (Marxist economist, India)
  • Ovigwe Eguegu (Columnist for the China Africa Project, Nigeria)
  • Camila Escalante (Broadcast journalist, producer, presenter for Kawsachun News, Bolivia)
  • Roland Boer (Professor of Marxist philosophy in the School of Marxism at Dalian University of Technology, China)
  • Mick Dunford (Emeritus Professor, University of Sussex, Visiting Professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
  • John Ross (Senior Fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China)
  • Qiao Collective (Collective of diaspora Chinese challenging US aggression on China)
  • Tings Chak (Lead Designer/Researcher at Tricontinental Institute and Dongsheng News)
  • Chair: Radhika Desai (Professor of Political Studies, University of Manitoba, Director, Geopolitical Economy Research Group)

About the organisers

Friends of Socialist China is a new platform based on supporting the People’s Republic of China and promoting understanding of Chinese socialism. Its website (edited by Danny Haiphong, Keith Bennett and Carlos Martinez) aims to consolidate the best articles and videos related to China and Chinese socialism, along with original analysis.

The Geopolitical Economy Research Group is a policy institute based at the University of Manitoba and run by Radhika Desai and Alan Freeman. It analyses and proposes policy alternatives for managing the interaction of national economies and states to promote human development and mutual benefit in today’s multipolar world.

China stands with Cuba against the blockade

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian on 24 June 2021:

China always believes that we should respect the right of each country to independently choose its social system and development path, uphold international order based on international law, safeguard international fairness and justice, and oppose unilateral coercive measures imposed on other countries by military, political, economic or other means. China urges the US to immediately and fully lift its economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba, which is the universal call of the international community.

Will China Suffer the Same Fate as the Soviet Union?

This article by Carlos Martinez, Will China Suffer the Same Fate as the Soviet Union?”, was published in World Review of Political Economy, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Summer 2020): pp. 189-207.


Carlos Martinez is an independent researcher and political activist from London, Britain. His first book, The End of the Beginning: Lessons of the Soviet Collapse, was published in 2019 by LeftWord Books. His main areas of research are the construction of socialist societies (past and present), progressive movements in Latin America, and multipolarity.

Abstract: It was widely assumed in the West following the collapse of European socialism that China would undergo a similar process of counter-revolution. This article seeks to understand why, three decades later, this hasn’t happened, and whether it is likely to happen in the foreseeable future. The article contrasts China’s “reform and opening up” process, pursued since 1978, with the “perestroika” and “glasnost” policies taken up in the Soviet Union under the Gorbachev leadership. A close analysis of the available data makes it clear that China’s reform has been far more successful than the Soviet reform; that, in contrast to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, all the key quality of life indicators in China have undergone significant improvement in the last forty years, and China is emerging as a global leader in science, technological innovation and environmental preservation. The article argues that the disparate outcomes in China and the Soviet Union are the result primarily of the far more effective economic strategy pursued by the Chinese government, along with the continued strengthening of the Communist Party of China’s leadership.

We should think of China’s communist regime quite differently from that of the USSR: it has, after all, succeeded where the Soviet Union failed. (Jacques 2009, 535)

This article addresses the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and seeks to understand whether the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is vulnerable to the same forces that undermined the foundations of European socialism. What lessons can be drawn from the Soviet collapse? Has capitalism won? What future does socialism have in the world? Is there any escape for humanity from brutal exploitation, inequality and underdevelopment? Is there a future in which the world’s billions can truly exercise their free will, their humanity, liberated from poverty and alienation?

The conclusions I draw are that China is following a fundamentally different path to that of the Soviet Union; that it has made a serious and comprehensive study of the Soviet collapse and rigorously applied what it has learnt; that the People’s Republic of China remains a socialist country and the driving force towards a multipolar world; that, in spite of the rolling back of the first wave of socialist advance, Marxism remains as relevant as ever; and that, consequently, socialism has a bright future in the world.

Continue reading Will China Suffer the Same Fate as the Soviet Union?

Salute on the Communist Party of China’s 100th Anniversary

We are republishing this useful article from Workers World outlining the history of the Communist Party of China and calling on progressives and anti-war activists in the West to oppose the US-led New Cold War.


Workers World Party, founded in 1959, is a Marxist-Leninist party in the U.S. From its beginning, Workers World has been a staunch supporter of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, with great appreciation for the guiding role of the Communist Party of China in that revolution. As a revolutionary working-class party in the center of world imperialism, we are determined to defend all the gains of our class on a world scale. We intend to make the following essay saluting the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China available to readers in the United States, so we have included some history not widely known in the U.S. that shows the differences between the U.S. and China. 

For 5,000 years, China was one of the world’s most advanced societies in culture, art and technology. It came under attack in the 18th and 19th centuries from powers whose rapid capitalist development gave them a temporary advantage in military and industrial power. This advantage led to several hundred years of the colonial looting of China and much of East and South Asia. Unequal treaties and military occupation reduced China to a country of staggering poverty, famines, social chaos, enforced underdevelopment and wars.

Most people brought up in the United States know little of the past intervention by the U.S. and other imperialist countries into China. They are unaware that, in the 19th century, armed units from the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Japan imposed their will on Chinese cities. The U.S. Navy had fleets of armored ships patrolling Chinese rivers and coastal waters. This most brutal gunboat diplomacy imposed unequal treaties to reinforce their military occupations, while making China pay these imperialist countries huge indemnities. With U.S. participation, Britain unleashed two Opium Wars on China to enforce its “right” to sell opium. They called it “free trade.” 

When students mobilized against Chinese rulers who were compliant to the imperialists, they were repressed. A nationalist movement grew. Until 1921, despite the courage of its young participants, they were unable to coalesce into a movement that could mobilize the masses of people — one-quarter of the world at that time — and liberate China. 

Continue reading Salute on the Communist Party of China’s 100th Anniversary

A century of the Communist Party of China: the Great Leap Forward

We are republishing this article by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez, which originally appeared in the Morning Star on 18 June 2021. It is the third in a series of articles about the history of the Communist Party of China, which celebrates its centenary on 1 July 2021.


To this day, the most popular method for casually denigrating the People’s Republic of China and the record of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is to cite the alleged crimes of Mao Zedong who, from the early 1930s until his death in 1976, was generally recognised as the top leader of the Chinese Revolution.

After all, if the CPC was so dedicated to improving the lot of the Chinese people, why did it engage in such disastrous campaigns as the Great Leap Forward (GLF) and the Cultural Revolution?

The GLF, launched in 1958, was an experimental programme designed to achieve rapid industrialisation and collectivisation; to fast-track the construction of socialism and allow China to make a final break with centuries-old underdevelopment and poverty; in Mao’s words, to “close the gap between China and the US within five years, and to ultimately surpass the US within seven years.”

In its economic strategy, it represented a rejection of Soviet-style urban industrialisation, reflecting the early stages of the Sino-Soviet split. The Chinese were worried that the Khrushchev leadership in Moscow was narrowly focused on the avoidance of conflict with the imperialist powers, and that its support to China and the other socialist countries would be sacrificed at the altar of peaceful coexistence. Hence China would have to rely on its own resources.

The plan for the GLF centred on the modernisation of agriculture, introducing irrigation and modern machinery, breaking down the barrier between town and country by producing some of that machinery in small-scale village factories, and trying to develop productivity — and a socialist spirit — through collectivisation and the formation of people’s communes.

There was a heavy voluntaristic aspect to the campaign; a broad appeal to the revolutionary spirit of the masses. Ji Chaozhu (at the time an interpreter for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later China’s ambassador to Britain (1987-91) notes in his memoirs: “Cadres were to join the peasants in the fields, factories, and construction sites. Even Mao made an appearance at a dam-building project to have his picture taken with a shovel in hand.”

Mao considered the countryside would once again become the “true source for revolutionary social transformation” and “the main arena where the struggle to achieve socialism and communism will be determined.”

The attempt to develop small-scale rural industry was, in the main, unsuccessful. And with millions of peasants drafted into the towns to work in factories, there were too few hands available for reaping and threshing (Alexander Pantsov writes that the “battle for steel had diverted the Chinese leadership’s attention from the grain problem, and the task of harvesting rice and other grain had fallen on the shoulders of women, old men and children.)

Furthermore the GLF coincided with a series of terrible droughts and floods. Adding to the troubles was the fact that, in 1960, the Sino-Soviet split came out into the open and the Soviets hurriedly withdrew their technical advisers.

The result of all this was a contraction in agricultural output, and a consequent deepening of poverty and malnutrition. Liu Mingfu writes that “the Great Leap Forward did not realise the goal of surpassing the UK and US. It actually brought China’s economy to a standstill and then recession.

“It caused a large number of unnatural deaths and pushed China’s global share of GDP from 5.46 per cent in 1957 to 4.01 per cent in 1962, lower than its share of 4.59 per cent in 1950.”

Certain of the GLF’s goals were achieved — most notably the irrigation of arable land. However, overall it failed to meet its objectives and was accompanied by several harmful side effects. It was called off in 1962.

For anti-communists, the GLF provides apparently incontrovertible proof of the monstrous, murderous nature of the CPC — and Mao Zedong in particular. Western bourgeois historians have settled on a figure of 30 million for the estimated number of lives lost in famine resulting from the GLF.

On the basis of a rigorous statistical analysis, Indian economist Utsa Patnaik concludes that China’s death rate rose from 12 per thousand in 1958 (a historically low figure resulting from land reform and the extension of basic medical services throughout the country) to a peak of 25.4 per thousand in 1960.

“If we take the remarkably low death rate of 12 per thousand that China had achieved by 1958 as the benchmark, and calculate the deaths in excess of this over the period 1959 to 1961, it totals 11.5 million. This is the maximal estimate of possible ‘famine deaths.’”

Patnaik observes that even the peak death rate in 1960 “was little different from India’s 24.8 death rate in the same year, which was considered quite normal and attracted no criticism.”

This is an important point. Malnutrition was at that time a scourge throughout the developing world (sadly it remains so in some parts of the planet). China’s history is rife with terrible famines, including in 1907, 1928 and 1942. It is only in the modern era, under the leadership of precisely that “monstrous” CPC, that malnutrition has become a thing of the past in China.

In other words, the failure of the GLF has been cynically manipulated by bourgeois academics to denigrate the entire history of the Chinese Revolution. The GLF was not some outrageous crime against humanity; it was an unsuccessful experiment designed to accelerate the building of a prosperous and advanced socialist society.

In the aftermath of the GLF, Mao’s more radical wing of the CPC leadership became somewhat marginalised, and the initiative fell to those wanting to prioritise social stability and economic growth over ongoing class struggle. Principal among these were Liu Shaoqi (head of state of the PRC, then widely considered Mao’s likely successor) and vice-premier Deng Xiaoping.

Mao and a group of his close comrades began to worry that the deprioritisation of class struggle reflected an anti-revolutionary “revisionist” trend that could ultimately lead to capitalist restoration.

As Mao saw it, revisionist elements were able to rely on the support of the intelligentsia — particularly teachers and academics — who, themselves coming largely from non working-class backgrounds, were promoting capitalist and feudal values among young people. It was necessary to “exterminate the roots of revisionism” and “struggle against those in power in the party who were taking the capitalist road.”

Such worries laid the basis for the Cultural Revolution.

Tribute to Dennis Etler (1947-2021)

This tribute to Dennis Etler was written by Rebecca Chan, Kassem Tofailli, Swan Oneswan, Michael Trinh, Luciana Bohne, and first appeared on the Xi Jinping – China’s Exceptional President Facebook page, of which he was the founder.


With what words to mourn Dennis Etler, who died so suddenly and unexpectedly on 3 June 2021?

As his moderators on the page, Xi Jinping–China’s Exceptional President, we are at a loss to express our sadness at the passing of the founder.

We, therefore, seek solace in remembering and honoring his thought, life, and work.

The sheer scope of Dennis’ interest in China, past and present, and his exceptional command of what he knew, continues to humble us–as do his knowledge of historic detail and his extraordinary powers of synthesis in his essays and articles.

Dennis was an academic. He held a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California, Berkley, and conducted archaeological and anthropological research in China throughout the 1980s and 1990s.He taught at the college and university level for over 35 years.

But, he was the sort of teacher committed not only to his profession but also to the social good. This drew him to China, where he saw great strides in human progress.

In his retirement, he founded the discussion page Xi Jinping–China’s Exceptional President.. He worked tirelessly until it grew to number 35,000 members–and he valued and took pride in the membership’s active contributions.

On the page, he showed what true leadership entails: modesty, integrity, respect, and caring. As many of you know, he was solicitous to questions, queries, and suggestions. He had the personal style of the compassionate comrade.

For that is what Dennis was before anything else–a comrade. He carried a colossal amount of work on his back, and yet he always found time for the personal.

He founded the page originally to provide a forum for discussing the Marxist-Leninist philosophy of Xi Jinping, at a time when the socialist character of China’s government was an object of derision among many Western leftists. In fact, Xi Jinping was steering the Communist Party of China back to ideological origins and founding principles.

As under Xi’s leadership, the party rid itself of corrupt and ideologically dodgy officials and grew more compact and unified, China grew stronger, more self-determined, more decisive.

Xi’s visionary Belt and Road initiative, launched in 2013, finally alerted the Western powers that China was not likely to be destabilized by internal forces, guided from abroad. At this point, the Western powers began their false propaganda war on China.

Dennis’ original focus for the Xi discussion page necessarily shifted from ideology to combating disinformation, as the most immediately imperative defensive front.

This necessary shift, conditioned by facts on the ground, is an example of Dennis’ own Marxist practice and, too, the reflection of his learning from China’s theoretical “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Original intentions are fine, but changing reality necessitate adaptations.

Dennis, in recent months, was invited to become a correspondent for CGTN. The articles he wrote for CGTN revealed to readers the dark side of American history, a necessary counter-narrative to Washington’s relentless assaults of painting China as abuser of human rights.

In addition, Dennis conducted interviews for Iran’s PressTV, looked forward to projects that would extend the reach of the Xi page to embrace and affect more and more people in their quest for consciousness of the turn that history was taking humankind.

For Dennis, If China was the center of change, humanity was the horizon.

Dennis was an internationalist. That is why the Xi page is so rich, so appreciative of the global diversity of its members.

It remains for us to conclude that we, the moderators, are determined to continue his legacy; to keep the page going, to serve the members what they need and want to know.

Above all to be sharers in common work.

To Dennis: you are not gone, dear comrade. People like you never die. They live in the consciousness of people whose minds they have changed and caused to be alive with thirst for truth and justice.

To Dennis’ family: our deepest sympathy and condolences.

To the members: the long march continues. Dennis is with us and leads us still.

Book review: Roland Boer – Socialism with Chinese Characteristics: A Guide for Foreigners

Roland Boer
Socialism with Chinese Characteristics: A Guide for Foreigners

Springer, Singapore, 2021. 316 pp., 103,99 € hb
ISBN 9789811616211

Reviewed by: Tamara Prosic


Ever since the reform and opening-up from 1978, and especially during the last few decades, China has often been portrayed as an economic and a political hybrid: an officially socialist country which has, under the aegis of its Communist Party and its leaders’ continuing declarations of allegiance to Marxism and building socialism, embraced two key components of capitalist systems: private ownership over the means of production and a market economy. For many, this hybridity is also an insoluble contradiction which, similar to the classical liar paradox, involves a range of mutually invalidating opposites lining up with popular understanding of ‘authentically’ Marxist/socialist/communist economic and political values, practices, etc., and respectively ‘authentically’ capitalist/liberal/neoliberal values, practices, etc. Overall, the reasoning goes that if China is truly socialist and if its Communist Party sincerely adheres to Marxism (as its theoretical and practical guide for building socialism and eventually communism), then introducing practices typical of capitalism constitutes a betrayal of Marxism (or deviation from it) and introduction of capitalism. Based on this essentialising dualistic logic, China has become ‘state capitalism’, ‘bureaucratic capitalism’, ‘capitalist socialism’, ‘neoliberalism/capitalism with Chinese characteristics’, ‘crony capitalism’, ‘red capitalism’, and many other capitalisms. Many of these ‘capitalist’ qualifications come from non-Marxists and are often just poorly veiled attempts to reassert Thatcher’s ‘there is no alternative’ slogan and Fukuyama’s ‘the end of history’ thesis. Unfortunately, many Marxists, especially in the West, also succumb to the trap of dualistic social ontology in thinking about China. The glaring fault in their approach: disregard for the basic Marxist method, more concretely, dialectics, which involves understanding reality, including the reality of socialism, as the constant development of contradictions and their resolutions through sublation.

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics challenges the simplistic mutually exclusive dualistic lens through which socialism in China is often viewed and judged. Truthful to its title, the book is a guide to Chinese socialism, both comprehensive and incisive, although not so much for foreigners as for those who lost sight of Marxist dialectics as theory, analytical method and most importantly, as a framework and guide for social practice. For others, who like myself, grew up and lived in a socialist country, reading Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is a journey simultaneously familiar and new: familiar in recognising the language of specifically socialist Marxism and new regarding the ways it has been applied in Chinese circumstances.

It is not easy to provide a short overview of Boer’s book. It has ten chapters (each one with many sections and subsections) which aim to provide comprehensive answers and explanations to many different questions one can ask about modern China. Some are more theoretical, other more factual, but all of them draw on a variety of strands involving history, Marxism, politics, law, linguistics, etc. The book covers what some might consider the ‘big’ issues such as the Marxist basis for the reform and opening up, the introduction of private ownership and market economy (chapters 4 and 5), the theoretical foundations and practical functioning of Chinese socialist democracy (chapters 8 and 9) and ideas about sovereignty and human rights and their practical applications (chapter 7). In dealing with these ‘big’ issues, however, a number of other questions are also clarified, such as the status of minority nationalities and their involvement in the democratic process (section 8.5), the meaning of ‘legal system’ and ‘rule of law’ (subsection 8.6.1), the role of the Party and the role of the government (subsection 9.6.2), views on globalisation (subsection 10.4.8), etc. Every chapter also involves quotes and references from Chinese sources, which include works and speeches by Party leaders (Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Xi Jinping), documents from congresses and conferences and an incredible number of Chinese Marxist philosophers, political scientists, economists, etc., most of which are unfortunately unknown outside of China. The book also includes explanations of Chinese words, expressions and characters which are part of the Chinese Marxist discourse, such as shishiqiushi (seeking truth from facts) (32), datong (unity, togetherness, harmony) and xiaokang (moderately well-off, healthy, peaceful and secure) (chapter 6), baquan (hegemony) (256), etc.

The way in which all of this versatile material is woven together and presented is clear and accessible, but the book is far from being a simple descriptive journey as one would expect from a ‘guide’. It is also a deeply analytical work which in order to highlight the distinctiveness of Chinese Marxism and the complexities of building socialism involves careful reading of Chinese textual material (and their squaring up with actual practice), frequent comparisons with Soviet and Western Marxism and Western liberal thought, constant moving between the past and the present, zooming in on details and zooming out to the big picture and frequent expositions about how described practical aspects fit in with Chinese Marxist discourse. In this sense, reading through Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is not an easy ride. There is breadth and depth to it which requires constant focus and, most importantly, also an open mind and readiness towards accepting reconfigured, sometimes in a completely new way, well-known Marxist ideas and concepts. 

The picture of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ that emerges from this intense journey is of a vibrant, dynamic and complex society which is in constant development and in a critical dialectical dialogue within itself and with the rest of the world. Indeed, if I were to summarise what ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ entails without doing grave injustice to its complexity, it would be that it exemplifies Marxist dialectics in real action. Dialectics was the force behind the reform and opening up (chapters 2, 3, 4, section 5.3) and it is still the dominant theory and method that informs and shapes development of Chinese socialism (section 1.2 and chapter 10). What differentiates Chinese Marxist dialectics, however, from Marxist dialectics in the classical sense is that it is referential to Chinese history and conditions (subsection 1.3) and that its primary focus is not anymore on contradictions arising from capitalism, but on resolving contradictions that arise in socialism, that is, in a post-revolution social reality where, as Marx would say, the expropriators have already been expropriated (section 3.4 and subsection 4.5.1). In other words, this is a type of socialist/socialistic dialectics whose main concern is development of socialism as concrete social, economic and political practice.  

Dialectics is the dominant theme of the book, but the key to understanding specifically Chinese socialist(ic) dialectics and appreciating the intricacies of Chinese socialism and its functioning are the first four chapters because most of the ideas they deal with are, with an ever-growing complexity, further elaborated in the rest of the book. In the introduction, Boer explains the role Marxism plays in China, what is specifically Chinese about it and a number of liberal and Western Marxists’ (mis)representations of Chinese socialism, which Chinese scholars and Boer view as inadequate and methodologically faulty since they try to understand China from the perspective of Western history, Western intellectual traditions and Western Marxism. The second chapter discusses Deng’s two principles (liberating thought from dogmatism for the purpose of liberating the forces of production, and seeking truth from facts as the basis of the Marxist method) that were instrumental for the move from strictly planned to mixed planned/market economy. The third chapter presents ‘contradiction analysis’ or dialectical materialism as it was developed in the Soviet Union, namely, the understanding that contradictions continue in socialism albeit in non-antagonistic form, and its application in Chinese conditions. Finally, the fourth chapter explains the reasons for the reform and the opening-up via contradiction analysis in a series of opposites such as collective/individual, equality/difference, revolution/reform, self-reliance/globalisation and their recalibration within the Chinese socialist economic and political context. From here, the book turns to an extremely detailed discussion of more concrete aspects of Chinese socialism, such as the economy, socialist modernisation, sovereignty, human rights and democracy, ending with an exposition of Xi Jinping’s thought. What all of these chapters clearly demonstrate is the firm footing of Boer’s claim from the introduction, namely, that Marxism is at the core of Chinese socialist project, although, as mentioned before, this is Marxism that is primarily referential to and applicable to problems arising in socialism.      

Does Boer’s book deliver on the promise to ‘redress the lack of knowledge’ about the concept and practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics? It certainly does and more so. For those who wonder whether China is still socialist or suspect that Chinese Communist Party abandoned Marxism, the book provides a lot of material on which to base their answers. In fact, anyone who wants to engage seriously and extensively with ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ should read the book. As for me, I never doubted that China is socialist. What Socialism with Chinese Characteristics did for me was to reaffirm that communism is indeed ‘the riddle of history solved’, which I began to doubt after the Yugoslav and the Soviet disaster, and to rekindle the hope that the world will come to that solution sooner rather than later. China wants to lead towards achieving this aim by example and Boer’s book certainly shines a very bright light on the ins and the outs of that example.


Tamara Prosic is a Senior Researcher with the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Rest in power, Kenneth Kaunda (28 April 1924 – 17 June 2021)

Kaunda was a key leader of the North Rhodesian struggle for liberation from British colonialism, first president of Zambia, lifelong friend of socialist China, and personal friend of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.

China helped us to struggle for our independence. China helped many other countries in Africa to get their independence. Now they are working with us to help us develop our economies. That’s what China is doing, helping us, as friends, genuine friends.

Kaunda affirms China’s contribution to Africa

Online discussion: China and the New Cold War (17 June 2021)

Update: this event is now in the past. You can watch the stream below.


New Hampshire Peace Action is organising an online event on China, US relations with China, and the demonisation of China as a rival to American hegemony. The discussion will be led by Danny Haiphong and Ben Norton.

The event takes place online via Zoom on 17 June 2021 at 7pm US Eastern / 4pm US Pacific / 12am Britain / 7am China. Register on Action Network.


The US is currently engaged in a program to modernize its entire nuclear arsenal. US citizens are told that Russia & China are doing the same. The US foreign policy establishment, through their implementation of the “Great-power competition” doctrine, manifestly situate China to replace the “Global War on Terror” as the next big threat to US national security. Join this discussion to better understand the motives behind US fear-mongering rhetoric towards China and analyze the reality of conditions on the ground.

Danny Haiphong is a Contributing Editor of Black Agenda Report, Co-Host of The Left Lens, and an organizer with No Cold War. He is co-author of American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror and maintains his own blog at patreon.com/dannyhaiphong

Ben Norton is assistant editor of the investigative journalism website The Grayzone. He produces the political podcast and  video show Moderate Rebels, which he co-hosts with The Grayzone editor and founder Max Blumenthal. Ben has reported from numerous countries, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, and more.

Eric Li on the continuity between Mao-era and reform-era China

Shanghai-based political scientist Eric Li was interviewed on RT’s Going Underground show, about a number of topics. We reproduce the video below, along with some key excerpts from the transcript.


On the basic continuity between pre-1978 and post-1978 China

Since the Cold War, China is the only major country that has really prospered and delivered for a large number of people – delivered to them a better life.

This was not because China abandoned socialism. Some people misconstrue the history of modern China; they tend to divide it into the first 30 years under Mao, until the late 1970s and Deng Xiaoping’s market reform, which took China to what it is today. But I’ve always said that without the first 30 years, the market reforms would not have been possible.

In the first 30 years, obviously, we had a lot of problems and a lot of mistakes. But it was in the first 30 years that we took our life expectancy – which in 1949 was about 40 – to 67 in the late 1970s. Literacy rate went from negligible to just over 80%, 100% among young people, in the late 1970s. Industrial base was built in the first 30 years, and more importantly, national independence, because China acquired nuclear weapons so nobody could invade it. That allowed it to pursue its own path after the first 30 years of the People’s Republic.

So Deng Xiaoping’s reforms were successful, in many ways, because the foundation was laid in the first 30 years.

On whether China is a capitalist country

We don’t have capitalism. We have a market economy, we do have capital and we have people like me who manage capital. A market economy means that you manage capital in a way that it generates efficient returns, you allocate resources efficiently. Capitalism to me means the interests of capital rise above the interests of the society as a whole. And capitalists capture the political system for their own benefits. And that we don’t want in this country.

On the shift in China’s priorities over the last decade

We’ve seen a great transformation of China in the last 9 to 10 years. I think the paradigm shift occurred in 2012, with the 18th Party Congress. China shifted from the 30 or 40 years prior to that, which was the headlong pursuit of economic growth, at whatever the costs. And we’re shifting away from that and towards more balanced growth, or more balanced development, which really means common prosperity, so a more equitable society.

There are a lot of side effects of market economics that we had pursued. Inequality is one of them, environmental degradation is another, and corruption was another. So all these issues needed to be addressed. And I think there has been a great transformation within Chinese society and China’s self perception, and the national aspiration of the Chinese people. Especially among young people. In my generation, we were primarily concerned about China being poor and lacking development. But if you ask the younger generation, born post 1990, of course they want economic opportunities, but their primary concerns are about inequality, and sustainability for the future.

Online Lecture: Was Mao a Marxist? (1 July 2021)

To mark the centenary of the Communist Party of China, the Marx Memorial Library is organising an online lecture by Jenny Clegg – former senior lecturer in international studies at the University of Central Lancashire, peace activist, and author of ‘China’s Global Strategy: Towards a Multipolar World‘.

The event will be held on Thursday 1 July, 7pm BST / 2pm US Eastern / 11am US Pacific. Register via Eventbrite.


Was Mao a Marxist? Mao and the Chinese peasant revolution (1925-1949)

One hundred years ago, on July 1st 1921, the Communist Party of China was founded by a handful of people who, for the sake of secrecy, held their first meeting on a boat on a lake to the south of Shanghai. Today, the CPC is a huge organisation with a membership of 91 million people.The CPC came to power with the support of the vast majority of the population: the peasants. The Party had come to understand that agrarian transformation was the main content of the Chinese revolution and the peasants its main force. Many on the Left still to this day under-rate Mao as little more than a peasant leader.This session will on the contrary discuss how Mao, through the sinification of Marxism, came to develop his distinctive policies and ‘mass line’ approach as he figured out ways to address the challenges of the Chinese revolution and social transformation through engaging in the revolutionary process in the countryside. Marking out the differences between Mao, Stalin and Trotsky, it will further consider the relationship between the national and the agrarian revolution.What are the lessons for us to draw on today from the Chinese experience of revolution?

Dr Jenny Clegg is an academic, activist and long term China specialist. Her PhD on China’s peasants in revolution was awarded by the University of Manchester in 1989. A revised version will be published later this year by Praxis Press.