Britain’s century-long opium trafficking and China’s ‘Century of Humiliation’ (1839-1949)

This essay by Stansfield Smith, first published in MR Online, provides a detailed account of China’s Century of Humiliation, a crucial phenomenon to understand and one which continues to inform China’s anti-colonial politics. “For the Chinese, the trauma of the Century of Humiliation continues as a blunt reminder of their past defeat and neo-colonial servitude, as well as a reminder of the West’s self-righteous hypocrisy and arrogance.”

Stansfield describes how the British, later joined by other Western powers, used opium as a weapon to weaken China and reverse the flow of silver. In so doing, they caused untold suffering to the Indian as well as the Chinese people: “Britain taxed away 50% of the value of Indian peasants’ food crops to push them out of agriculture into growing Opium. This soon led to the Bengal famine of 1770, when ten million, a third of the Bengali population, starved to death. Britain took no action to aid them, as they did almost a century later with their orchestrated famine in Ireland.”

Once Britain defeated China in the First Opium War, the Treaty of Nanking gave Hong Kong to Britain as indemnity. Hong Kong “quickly became the center of Opium drug-dealing, soon providing the colony most of its revenue.” Such are the ignominious origins of British rule in Hong Kong.

China’s weakness was quickly leveraged by other Western powers, who imposed unequal treaties on China, and by the turn of the 20th century China was effectively a semi-colonial country. “The Eight-Nation Alliance (Japan, Russia, Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary) invaded again in 1900 to crush the nationalist Boxer Rebellion. An indemnity of 20,000 tons of silver was extracted, and China reduced to a neo-colony.”

Stansfield observes that “the blight of Opium on China was not resolved until the revolutionary victory in 1949.” Socialism has made China strong, and the Chinese people are determined to never again be humiliated by foreign powers. The article concludes:

The West now views China as a renewed threat, again seeking to economically disable it and chop it into pieces. However, this time, the Chinese people are much better prepared to combat imperialist designs to impose a new era of humiliation on them.

Stansfield Smith is an anti-war activist focused mostly on combating US intervention in Latin America. He is an activist with Chicago ALBA Solidarity.

For the Chinese, the trauma of the Century of Humiliation continues as a blunt reminder of their past defeat and neo-colonial servitude, as well as a reminder of the West’s self-righteous hypocrisy and arrogance.

In 1500, India and China were the world’s most advanced civilizations. Then came the Europeans. They eventually looted and wreaked havoc on both, just as they were to on the Americas and Africa. For India and China, Britain was the chief culprit, relying on state-sponsored drug-running backed by industrialized military power. The British Empire was the world’s largest producer and exporter of Opium—the main product of global trade after the gradual decline of the slave trade from Africa. Their “civilization” brought the Century of Humiliation to China, which only ended with the popular revolution led by Mao Zedong. This historic trauma and the struggle to overcome it and re-establish their country is etched in the minds of the Chinese today.

Before the British brought their “culture,” 25% of the world trade originated in India. By the time they left it was less than 1%. British India’s Opium dealing was for the large part of the 19th Century the second-most important source of revenue for colonial India. Their “Opium industry was one of the largest enterprises on the subcontinent, producing a few thousand tons of the drug every year—a similar output to Afghanistan’s notorious Opium industry [during the U.S. occupation], which supplies the global market for heroin.” Opium accounted for about 17-20% of British India revenues.

In the early 1700s, China produced 35% of the world GDP. Until 1800 half the books in the world were printed in Chinese. The country considered itself self-sufficient, not seeking any products from other countries. Foreign countries bought Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain, having to pay in gold and silver. Consequently, the balance of trade was unfavorable to the British for almost two centuries, like the situation the U.S. and Europe face with China today.

This trade slowly depleted Western reserves. Eventually, 30,865 tons of silver flowed into China, mostly from Britain. Britain turned to state sponsored drug smuggling as a solution, and by 1826 the smuggling from India had reversed the flow of silver. Thus began one of the longest and continuous international crimes of modern times, second to the African slave trade, under the supervision of the British crown.

(The just formed United States was already smuggling Opium into China by 1784. The U.S. first multi-millionaire John Jacob Astor grew rich dealing Opium to China, as did FDR’s grandfather, Warren Delano, Jr.)

The British East India Company was key to this Opium smuggling. Soon after Britain conquered Bengal in 1757, George III granted the East India Company a monopoly on producing and exporting Indian Opium. Eventually its Opium Agency employed some 2500 clerks working in 100 offices around India.

Britain taxed away 50% of the value of Indian peasants’ food crops to push them out of agriculture into growing Opium. This soon led to the Bengal famine of 1770, when ten million, a third of the Bengali population, starved to death. Britain took no action to aid them, as they did almost a century later with their orchestrated famine in Ireland. Another famine hit India in 1783, and again Britain did nothing as 11 million starved. Between 1760-1943,

As per British sources, more than 85 million Indians died in these famines which were in reality genocides done by the British Raj.

At its peak in the mid-19th century, the British state-sponsored export of Opium accounted for roughly 15% of total colonial revenue in India and 31% of India’s exports. The massive revenues from this drug money solidified India as a substantial financial base for England’s later world conquests.

Continue reading Britain’s century-long opium trafficking and China’s ‘Century of Humiliation’ (1839-1949)

Quiet please! We’re decolonising

Events in the Sahel region of Africa seldom get the international attention they deserve. However, developments in recent years have started to draw greater attention from anti-imperialists. In Mali in 2021, Burkina Faso in 2022, and Niger in 2023, progressive figures from the military have taken power, dealing a blow to the former colonial power France, which has long continued to maintain its effective domination of the region, and arousing renewed hope among the masses of people for independent development and social progress.

On 16 September 2023, these three countries formed the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) as a mutual defence pact when military aggression was threatened against the new government of Niger. The AES joins a growing number of regional and international bodies formed by the countries of the Global South to strengthen their independence against imperialism on the basis of collective self-reliance.

As part of this process, all three countries are strengthening their ties, in the economic, military and other fields, with China, Russia and other anti-imperialist states.

These developments do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they have deep roots. Many people in the anti-imperialist movement know something of Thomas Sankara, the inspirational Marxist leader of Burkina Faso. Some know of Modibo Keïta, the first, socialist President of Mali. But probably very few know of the Sawaba Party, its leader Djibo Bakary, and the courageous armed struggle they waged in the 1960s for Niger’s true liberation.  

In this special article, written exclusively for Friends of Socialist China, Dr. Sahidi Bilan, Senior Adviser of  London-based Collectif de la Nigérienne Diaspora (Collective of the Nigérien Diaspora – CND), and Rob Lemkin, award-winning filmmaker, whose BBC2/BFI African Apocalypse documents the 1899 French invasion of Niger, bring the hidden history of the Sawaba Party to life, focusing especially on the strong internationalist support and assistance rendered by the People’s Republic of China to the Nigerien revolution – a relationship of solidarity that dates from 1954.

Bringing the story up to date, the authors conclude:

“It may be that the emancipatory force of history that Sawaba fought so hard to release is now beginning to be realised by the people of Niger. Let us hope that long-yearned-for freedom and justice can at last prevail without negative external interference…

“Today Niger and China have strong economic and political relations.  Sawaba’s little-known history and connection with the PRC is an important foundation in the origins of today’s friendship.”

The struggle of the Sawaba Party was suppressed with extreme cruelty. But, facing execution at the hands of Spanish colonialists in 1781, Bolivian national hero, Tupac Katari declared: “I will return and I will be millions.” 

Today, as their countries embark on the difficult road of building a new society, Thomas Sankara, Modibo Keïta and Djibo Bakary have returned. And they are millions.

When Niger’s military government last year expelled the troops and diplomats of the former colonising power France, some Nigeriens saw it as the resumption of a process rudely interrupted in September 1958. Sixty-six years ago, on the eve of independence, Niger’s first African government council was led by the Sawaba party (Sawaba means ‘liberation’ and ‘well-being’ in Niger’s main language Hausa) and its Prime Minister was a charismatic decolonial trade unionist called Djibo Bakary.

Sawaba’s overthrow in 1958 by France was Africa’s first modern coup d’etat. In no time the party was proscribed and driven underground; it went on to create a resistance movement with the support of African anti-imperialist states like Ghana and Algeria and developed a significant guerrilla training programme with help from the socialist bloc notably the People’s Republic of China.

‘Silence! On decolonise!’ is the title of Djibo Bakary’s great book, at once autobiography and manifesto for the radical decolonisation programme of which he was a principal. We use its title to explore a better understanding of the 26 July 2023 military coup and its unilateral  severing of military accords with France and later the United States of America. It is vital to interrogate why no military coup in Niger’s post-independence history (and there have been eight of which five were successful) has had such popular support as that of the CNSP (Conseil national pour la sauvegarde de la patrie, National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland).

This article gives first a brief introduction to Sawaba’s history and vision for Niger; we then focus on China’s connections, in particular its role in and influence on Sawaba’s remarkably ambitious, but disastrously unsuccessful attempt to invade Niger in 1964; we then outline the intense repression that followed and conclude bringing the story up to the present.

The questions for today include: how aware are Niger’s current rulers of Bakary and Sawaba’s radical decolonial project? Are the recent expulsions of Western military forces part of genuine politics of anti-imperialism or are they merely a populist move by the military government? American and French military presences (Italian and German too) had been justified by the need to combat insurgency. But terror attacks have increased over the last decade. The government is now turning to Russia for military assistance.


 “I believe it is our duty is to inform the representatives of France of the will and thought of the overwhelming majority of the people we claim to work for; to serve the interests of the greatest number and not to use it as a springboard to satisfy desires for luxury and power. For this, we need to grapple with our problems by ourselves and for ourselves and have the will to solve them first on our own, later with the help of others, but always taking account of our African realities (…)

For our part, we have said it again and again: we have been, we are and will remain always for and with the Nigérien “talaka” (peasant)”

Djibo Bakary, Editorial in The Democrat 4 February 1956

Nowadays the history of Sawaba is little known or spoken of in Niger. In fact, it was not until 1991 after the end of the Cold War that the full list could be published of Sawabist political prisoners who had died in detention through the 1960s and 70s. According to Mounkaila Sanda, Djibo Bakary’s nephew and a later leader of Sawaba, there has long been a concerted effort to expunge the memory of Sawaba’s struggle from national consciousness along with the systematic repression of its members.

Continue reading Quiet please! We’re decolonising

Keith Bennett: Understanding Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

The Brighton Morning Star Readers and Supporters organised a meeting on the theme, China and the Struggle for Peace on March 24.

The invited speakers were our co-editors Carlos Martinez and Keith Bennett.

In his presentation, Carlos explained the thinking behind China’s foreign policy, showing how it is based on the principles of peace, development and win-win cooperation, and explained how this approach is rooted in China’s history and ideology, and is consistent with the country’s overall strategic goals. 

The text of Carlos’s presentation can be read here.  

Following this, Keith presented a broad overview of China’s socialist development, contextualising it in the overall history of the exercise of state power by the working class and its allies and the original road taken by the Chinese communists led by Mao Zedong, which represents a major contribution to the theory and practice of revolution. 

He prefaced his contribution by noting that the Morning Star carries the words, “For Peace and Socialism” on its masthead every day, highlighting the fact that the struggles for peace and for socialism are inextricably intertwined. 

A lively discussion and Q&A followed the presentations, which was continued informally in one of Brighton’s excellent local pubs.

We reprint below the text of Keith’s remarks.

The Communist Manifesto, the foundational text of scientific socialism, is still considerably short of 200 years old.

The working class and its allies have now held state power, and engaged in a serious project of socialist nation building, somewhere continuously for just under 107 years.

The Chinese working class, together with the peasantry and representatives of all patriotic sections of Chinese society, have held state power for just coming up to 75 years, with some two decades of running revolutionary base areas before that.

Since the October Revolution of 1917, serious attempts, with varying degrees of success, have been made to establish and build socialism in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, South America and Africa.

Therefore, on the one hand we can say that humanity has acquired a certain degree of experience and lessons, both positive and negative, regarding the struggle to establish and build socialism.

But more fundamentally, we can say that, in the long course of human history, socialism remains a very new and fledgling system.

This is not to say that there is nothing to learn and draw from. Xi Jinping’s point that socialism with Chinese characteristics offers a new reference point and option for those countries that wish to rapidly develop their economies while maintaining their independence acquires ever greater validity practically with each passing day.

And communists everywhere still draw on the historical experience of the USSR, its monumental achievements, as well as its mistakes, that contributed to its ultimate demise, as well as the experience of every historical and contemporary attempt to build socialism.

But despite the fact that we do not start from a completely blank page, the most fundamental lesson we can draw so far from the historical and ongoing attempts to build socialism, I would argue, is that there is no ready-made blueprint or master plan, no straight road, and certainly no ‘one size fits all’ formula that can be downloaded and implemented at any time and in any place.

Moreover, for most of their political lives (arguably less so towards the end) Marx and Engels envisaged socialism replacing highly developed and advanced capitalism.

So far, this has not happened anywhere.

One could of course argue, like some ultra leftists and dogmatists, that this somehow invalidates the whole experience of actually existing socialism.

Or one can appreciate that this conditions the context in which countries and peoples move towards socialism, that every country will approach socialism in its own way, and that, not least, the character and duration of the transition period may vary enormously.

What’s highly relevant to those countries in which socialism has actually triumphed, theorised by Lenin as ‘breaking the chain at its weakest link’, is the fact that attempts to build socialism have all occurred in a world that is still largely dominated by capitalism and imperialism.

Moreover, every preceding class that rose to political power did so in the wake of and in the context of their rising economic power. In the case of the proletariat, it is almost the exact opposite.

All this helps explain why Stalin, in his Foundations of Leninism, explains that, even after it has taken power, for a time, the proletariat remains weaker than the bourgeoisie.

This is some of the context in which we must start to look at the trajectory of the Chinese revolution.

Although China has the world’s longest continuous civilisation and was the world’s biggest economy for most of the last two millennia, since the British launched the first Opium War in 1839, the country was reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society. Not for nothing is the ensuing period known by the Chinese as the ‘century of humiliation’, marked by unequal treaties, foreign aggression, most devastatingly that by Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, and by wars of aggression and resistance, civil wars and ultimately a victorious revolution.

Whether when the Communist Party of China was founded in 1921, or the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949, China was one of the poorest and most wretched societies on earth. Illiteracy was as high as life expectancy was low.

So, how did the Chinese revolution succeed?

Continue reading Keith Bennett: Understanding Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

Vietnam holds grand ceremony to celebrate 70th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu victory

Vietnam held a grand ceremony and parade on May 7 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the great victory in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This victory of a colonised nation against a far stronger imperialist power not only sounded the death knell of French colonial rule in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, but also inspired the national liberation movement throughout the world.

Held in Dien Bien Phu city, the celebration was attended by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and other serving and retired Vietnamese leaders. Zhang Qingwei, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), joined leaders from Laos, Cambodia and France at the event.

In his speech, Prime Minister Chinh, on behalf of the Party and State, expressed endless gratitude to President Ho Chi Minh, General Vo Nguyen Giap, the direct commander of the Dien Bien Phu campaign, predecessors, soldiers, heroic Vietnamese mothers, the heroes of the people’s armed forces, pioneering youths, frontline workers, war invalids, martyrs’ families, along with the entire armed forces and people nationwide, for their utmost dedication, bravery, and sacrifice to create the historic Dien Bien Phu victory that “resounded across the five continents and shook the globe.”

He also appreciated the precious and wholehearted assistance from China, the countries of the former Soviet Union, socialist nations, international friends, and progressive and peace-loving forces worldwide, especially Laos and Cambodia in the combatant alliance of the three Indochinese countries, for the Dien Bien Phu campaign as well as the Vietnamese people’s struggle for national liberation.

The historic victory was not only significant to the Vietnamese revolution but also became a source of support for national liberation movements and marked the start of the collapse of old colonialism around the world, he remarked.

The following article was originally published in the Vietnamese newspaper Nhân Dân.

The Party Central Committee, the National Assembly (NA), the State President, the Government, the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF) Central Committee, and the northwestern province of Dien Bien held a grand ceremony on May 7 in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu Victory (May 7, 1954 – 2024).

The event, organised in Dien Bien Phu city, was attended by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Permanent member of the Party Central Committee’s Secretariat and Chairwoman of its Organisation Commission Truong Thi Mai, Acting State President Vo Thi Anh Xuan, Permanent Vice Chairman of the NA Tran Thanh Man, and President of the VFF Central Committee Do Van Chien.

It also saw the presence of former Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh; former State Presidents Nguyen Minh Triet, Truong Tan Sang, and Nguyen Xuan Phuc; former PM Nguyen Tan Dung; and former NA Chairman Nguyen Van An,

International guests included Lao Deputy PM and Minister of National Defence Chansamone Chanyalath, Cambodian Deputy PM Neth Savoeun, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China Zhang Qingwei, French Minister of the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu, delegates of foreign representative bodies in Vietnam, defence attachés of other countries, and representatives of overseas Vietnamese.

Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong sent flowers to the event.

Continue reading Vietnam holds grand ceremony to celebrate 70th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu victory

Dien Bien Phu victory through the memory of Chinese Senior Lieutenant General

Vietnam has been staging major commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the country’s victory at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This epic confrontation, which has been compared to the Battle of Stalingrad, and which raged for more than 50 days, from 13 March-May 7 1954, saw the Vietnamese liberation forces, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap, comprehensively outwit, outmaneuver and finally crushingly defeat the far more powerful forces of French colonialism.

The victory of the Vietnamese revolutionaries destroyed French colonial rule in the three countries then collectively known as Indochina, namely Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which was then codified in the Geneva Accords of July 21, 1954. And, coming less than a year after the Korean people’s victory in the Fatherland Liberation War, the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu powerfully inspired oppressed peoples and nations throughout the world in their struggles against colonialism and imperialism. Not least, the Algerian people commenced their war of liberation against French colonial rule less than six months later.

The Vietnamese Communist Party’s newspaper Nhân Dân recently summarised the significance of the Dien Bien Phu victory as follows:

The Dien Bien Phu Victory became the sound of thunder that shook the world, tearing through the dark clouds of colonialism and imperialism, bringing a great source of encouragement to oppressed peoples to stand up to regain independence. The three words ‘Vietnam’, ‘Ho Chi Minh’, and ‘Dien Bien Phu’ resounded everywhere, becoming the pride and hope for freedom of progressive forces, a symbol of great bravery, and a shining star of the national liberation movement, signalling the collapse of colonialism.

“The Dien Bien Phu Victory is even greater because it is a victory of a fledgling army of a weak nation which defeated a colonialist giant with outnumbering troops and weapons. During the 56 days and nights of the battle, our army eliminated more than 16,000 enemy troops and demolished a group of strongholds regarded by the West as an invincible fortress. It was also the first time in history that a major expeditionary army of a western imperialist country was exterminated in a colonial country.”

Vietnam’s victory was immeasurably aided by the internationalist support and assistance of the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, particularly the Military Advisory Delegation of China, which was embedded with the Vietnamese command.

It was commanded by Senior Lieutenant General Wei Guoqing (September 2, 1913-June 14, 1989). An outstanding Chinese revolutionary, Wei also served as Vice Chairman of the 4th and 5th National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committees; Vice Chairman of the 4th and 5th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conferences (CPPCC); Alternate Member and Member of the 8th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC); Member of the 9th Central Committee of the CPC; and member of the 10th, 11th and 12th Political Bureaux of the CPC Central Committee.

Marking the 70th anniversary, Nhân Dân recently interviewed Wei Guoqing’s son, Wei Xiaoyi, and his widow, Xu Qiqian.

Wei Xiaoyi said: “Before leaving for Vietnam, Chairman Mao Zedong met with the delegation’s leaders in Zhongnanhai [the compound where the top Chinese leadership live and work]. He asked the delegation’s members to support the Vietnamese revolution impartially and purely, just like serving the Chinese revolution. My father remembered Chairman Mao Zedong’s notes. After coming to Vietnam, he contributed his opinions to the construction and operations of the Vietnamese army”.

Regarding the significance of the Dien Bien Phu Victory for Vietnam, China and the world, Wei Xiaoyi said that the victory of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign forced the French army to withdraw from Indochina, leading to the success of the cause of national liberation. The growth and maturity of the Vietnamese forces, from a guerrilla army gradually becoming a regular army, created the foundation for the struggle against US imperialists’ invasion and later the national liberation and reunification.

For China, in the 1950s, the maintenance of stability in the situation of Korea bordering north China and Vietnam bordering south China created favourable conditions for the building of socialism. In addition, the Dien Bien Phu Victory also had an impact on the national liberation movement around the world. Vietnam’s struggle to defeat the French colonialists and later, the American imperialists to reunify the country, was a great encouragement for the national liberation movement in the world.

The following article was originally published by Nhân Dân. Additionally, its timeline of the battle can be seen here.

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu Victory, Nhan Dan (People) Newspaper’s reporters in China interviewed Wei Xiaoyi, a son of Senior Lieutenant General Wei Guoqing, former Head of the Military Advisory Delegation of China during the Dien Bien Phu Campaign.

Wei Xiaoyi and his mother, Xu Qiqian (over 90), were very moved when they recalled their memories of the Chinese Senior Lieutenant General, who was attached to and devoted much love to Vietnam.

Recalling Senior Lieutenant General Wei Guoqing’s account of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign, Wei Xiaoyi said following the failures in campaigns, such as the Border Campaign and Upper Laos Campaign, France appointed General Henri Navarre as Commander-in-Chief of the French army in Indochina. Navarre developed a military plan named after himself to turn the tide of the Indochina war, with the assumption that by capturing this land, they would be able to control the entire northwest region of Vietnam and cut off communication between the Vietnamese army and people with Laos and China, while making it difficult for the Vietnamese to supply logistics.

In late 1953, the French army began sending garrisons to Dien Bien Phu, including mercenaries and later paratroopers. Faced with that situation, at Vietnam’s request, China sent a military advisory delegation to help the Vietnamese army. Senior Lieutenant General Wei Guoqing was the Head of the Chinese military advisory delegation to the Dien Bien Phu Campaign.

Wei Xiaoyi said: “Before leaving for Vietnam, President Mao Zedong met with the delegation’s leaders in Zhongnanhai. He asked the delegation’s members to support the Vietnamese revolution impartially and purely, just like serving the Chinese revolution. My father remembered President Mao Zedong’s notes. After coming to Vietnam, he contributed his opinions to the construction and operations of the Vietnamese army”.

On the 60th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu Victory, Wei Xiaoyi visited the ancient Dien Bien Phu battlefield. He said he felt all he heard about Dien Bien Phu through the relic sites such as Dien Bien Phu Campaign Headquarters, where General Vo Nguyen Giap and others of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign Command often worked and rested, or the workplace of the Chinese Military Advisory Delegation.

Just like his father, Wei Xiaoyi greatly admired the spirit of heroic fighting and overcoming difficulties and hardships of the Vietnamese army and people, especially the transportation of weapons, ammunition, and food during the Dien Bien Phu Campaign, relied entirely on human strength amid the scarcity and a large difference in force with the enemy.

Regarding the significance of the Dien Bien Phu Victory for Vietnam, China and the world, Wei Xiaoyi said that the victory of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign forced the French army to withdraw from Indochina, leading to the success of the cause of national liberation. The growth and maturity of the Vietnamese, from a guerrilla army gradually becoming a regular army, created the foundation for the struggle against US imperialists’ invasion and later the national liberation and reunification.

For China, in the 1950s, the maintenance of stability in the situation of Korea in North China and Vietnam in South China created favourable conditions for the building of socialism in China. In addition, the Dien Bien Phu Victory also had an impact on the national liberation movement around the world. Vietnam’s struggle to defeat the French colonialists and later, the American imperialists to reunify the country was a great encouragement for the national liberation movement in the world.

Senior Lieutenant General Wei Guoqing (September 2, 1913 – June 14, 1989) was Head of the Chinese Military Advisory Delegation in Vietnam; Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee for fourth and fifth tenures; Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference for fourth and fifth tenures; Alternate Member and Member of the 8th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC); Member of the 9th Central Committee of the CPC; and member of the 10th, 11th and 12th Politburo of the CPC.

Wei Xiaoyi is the second child of Senior Lieutenant General Wei Guoqing. He joined the army and retired. He is now a researcher on Chinese military and revolutionary history.

Taiwan: An Anti-Imperialist Resource

Qiao Collective, a diaspora Chinese media collective challenging US aggression against China, published in February of this year an “Anti-Imperialist Resource” on the topic of China’s Taiwan province, the island’s history and its place in contemporary and 20th-century geopolitics. The resource contains a useful introduction, which is reprinted below, alongside a detailed timeline, and links to contemporary “left pro-unification” articles, summaries of economic issues, statistical analysis of public opinion, and other resources to aid understanding. This resource is the latest in a series of reading lists on topics related to contemporary China, and particularly ‘hot button’ issues frequently weaponised against China in Western media. The full list can be accessed here.

Below, Friends of Socialist China reprints the resource’s introduction, and encourages readers to explore and utilise the extensive collection of materials to gain a full understanding of the complexities of cross-straits relations, and the winding road of China’s path of reunification, which is an essential element of its projects of national rejuvenation and overcoming the legacy of colonialist and imperialist interference.

The historical context provided here is particularly useful while the current administration of Taiwan province is engaging in various forms of historical obscurantism: whitewashing the crimes of the period of Japanese occupation, while at the same time hiding the reality of the period of the Nationalist KMT’s “white terror” and military dictatorship, with martial law lasting until 1987. The introduction notes that “proponents of Taiwan independence rely on an overlapping revisionist toolkit that elides the historical context of unresolved civil war.” The full resources also importantly highlight that pro-reunification voices and organisations continue to exist on Taiwan province (despite concerted violent suppression campaigns), and that when the population are surveyed, ‘independence’ is not the preferred option for the majority. 

The introduction stresses that a proper understanding of historical context, and awareness of arguments of contemporary pro-reunification activists, can help readers unpick the frequent use of “left” language, such as that of ‘settler-colonialism’, employed by liberal advocates of independence to obscure the reality of Taiwan’s position in the intrigues of imperialism. As the CPC has asserted on many occasions, reunification will be a benefit to Chinese on both sides of the straits, stating in a recent white paper on the topic: “The future of Taiwan lies in China’s reunification, and the wellbeing of the people in Taiwan hinges on the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, an endeavor that bears on the future and destiny of the people on both sides.” 

The collection of materials “serves as a starting point for understanding China’s aspirations for national reunification and Taiwan’s overdetermined status as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ for Western ideological, economic, and military power in Asia and the Pacific.”

Introduction

In the Western imagination, Taiwan exists as little more than a staging ground for ideological war with the People’s Republic of China—a crossroads of democracy versus authoritarianism, Western values versus Chinese backwardness, and free market capitalism versus closed-door communism. Yet for centuries, the island of Taiwan has played a rich and pivotal role in broader Chinese history. Located just one hundred miles from the mainland’s southeastern coast, Taiwan was linked to the mainland through migration, trade, language and culture long before European and Japanese colonizers seized on its strategic location as a launchpad for economic and military forays against China at large. Today, this history continues as U.S. imperialism positions Taiwan as an ideological and military base for its new Cold War against China.

Taiwan’s separation from the Chinese mainland began in 1895, when the Qing government was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan after its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War. While Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II legally restored Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, the Chinese civil war and the global Cold War once again rendered Taiwan an instrument for imperial ambitions against China. For the ascendant postwar United States, the 1949 establishment of the PRC under the Communist Party of China marked the “loss of China”—a blow that was partially recouped by propping up the fleeing Chiang Kai-shek government in Taiwan as “Free China.” In 1950, as the U.S. waged war to prevent the socialist unification of Korea, President Harry Truman dispatched the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to similarly foreclose the possibility of a unified socialist China. The legacy of that militarized division remains today, as the U.S. enforces the separation of Taiwan from the PRC through multibillion-dollar arms sales, menacing war games, and a concerted propaganda drive which together undermine the possibility of peaceful reunification. This bipartisan campaign of hybrid warfare has intensified over the last fifteen years, following China’s rise as a major power, the corresponding U.S. Pivot to Asia, and the era of “decoupling” pursued by both the Trump and Biden administrations. As the U.S. military declares the Pacific its primary theater of war, successive U.S. administrations have marshaled enormous economic, military, and ideological resources to build up Taiwan as a focal point for this new Cold War. This program violates the letter of the one-China principle and the spirit of the United States’ own “one-China policy,” which together have formed the basis for bilateral relations since 1979. Furthermore, they neglect the centuries-long shared history of Taiwan and its people with their neighbors across the strait.

Just as Western colonialism was once justified as a “civilizing mission,” U.S. imperial designs on Taiwan and China at large march under the banner of promoting “democracy” and defending the international “rules-based order.” The U.S. claim to be acting in defense of Taiwan’s “vibrant democracy” from Chinese authoritarianism is particularly ahistorical, given that the United States is responsible for propping up the Kuomintang (KMT) military dictatorship under Chiang and his successors for almost forty years. Meanwhile, despite grandiose language about U.S. global leadership, the reality is that the majority of the world understands cross-strait relations to be an internal matter for China. Only eleven UN member states maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan (as the Republic of China), and no country recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation. This fact is unsurprising; UN recognition of the PRC as the legitimate representative of China came on the wings of overwhelming support from the Third World. Having experienced the genocidal violence and economic exploitation inherent to the Western imperial system, the Global South, like China itself, adheres to the tenets of sovereignty and non-interference. 

Though ideologically diverse, proponents of Taiwan independence rely on an overlapping revisionist toolkit that elides the historical context of unresolved civil war shaping the cross-strait relationship. Instead, China’s aspirations for national unity are cast in terms of imperialism and expansionism. The era of KMT martial law is counterfactually invoked as precedent for authoritarian Chinese encroachment, obscuring the historical KMT-CPC rivalry and the role of the U.S. in supporting the military dictatorship. Meanwhile, the history of Japanese colonialism has been systematically revised to present a relatively “benign” rule that forms the bedrock for a non-Chinese local identity. Claims that Taiwan’s democracy has “voted out” reunification as a political pathway omit the crucial context that the island’s most vocal left-wing supporters of unification were systematically purged, jailed, and murdered under Japanese colonialism and KMT rule. Efforts to co-opt Taiwan’s yuánzhùmín, or indigenous peoples, into the project of Taiwan independence rely on a similar level of obfuscation; despite the separatist camp’s appropriation of decolonial rhetoric, yuánzhùmín have historically been apathetic towards the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). And in spite of attempts to stake Taiwan separatism to a schema of ethnic difference, official demographics list 95% of Taiwan’s population as being Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group of the Chinese mainland.

While those on the left may be (rightfully) skeptical of elite rhetoric of freedom and democracy, this rhetoric of Chinese imperialism, settler colonialism, and ethnic chauvinism may be harder to parse for those unfamiliar with Taiwan’s history. Yet, whether it is couched in the moralizing language of classic Cold Warriors or self-styled leftists, Taiwan independence ultimately serves the material interests of Western imperialism. Like the European and Japanese imperialists that colonized Taiwan for access to Chinese trade from the 17th through the 20th century, the United States transparently envisions the island as an outpost for efforts to contain China militarily and decouple from it economically. More than 70 years since U.S. military leader Douglas MacArthur described Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the nation’s Cold War against China, Taiwan remains a crude asset for U.S. military realpolitik. It is the linchpin of the so-called first island chain that links the 400 U.S. military bases spread across Asia and the Pacific and, crucially, home to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest advanced semiconductor chip manufacturer. Lofty narratives of Taiwan independence thus ultimately fuel consent for militarization, intervention, and war while marginalizing anti-imperialist voices for diplomacy and peace. They also disguise the true intent of retaining Taiwan as a neocolonial outpost of Western empire to undermine China’s sovereign economic development. There is no “independence” in becoming a U.S. client regime entrapped in a capitalist world order. It would set a precedent for any country, large or small, that challenges U.S. hegemony to be balkanized with impunity. For the left to support such an outcome would be self-sabotage on an epic scale, regardless of the titanic politico-economic shifts on both sides of the strait since the Chinese Revolution of 1949.

The modern-day context around cross-strait relations is complex and evolving, and the lives of Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan strait have been negatively affected by centuries of imperialism. We recognize that there is no perfect, clear-cut path to development after colonization and civil war, but insist on China’s right to defend its sovereign project of socialist construction. Cross-strait relations should be debated and resolved on Chinese terms and in Chinese dialogues only. They should not be used as crude ammunition in the U.S.-led geopolitical assault on China.

This syllabus includes a condensed timeline of Taiwan’s history to provide historical context to contemporary discussions about China, as well as a list of resources that highlight key aspects of cross-strait relations and history. It is not intended to be comprehensive in scope, for Taiwan’s place in Chinese history extends far beyond the recent centuries of Western and Japanese imperialism in Asia. Nor is it intended to offer simple answers to questions about mainland China and Taiwan. It aims only to be a starting point for critical inquiry, and we urge readers to seek a diversity of sources and form their own opinions. A more detailed understanding requires further study into Taiwan’s history, cross-strait relations, Chinese politics, and ongoing geopolitical developments.

The full resource can be accessed here.

69 years on, the Bandung Spirit remains alive in the Global South

The following article, originally published in Xinhua on 21 April 2024 to coincide with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Indonesia, explores the fascinating history of the historic Asian-African Conference, held in Bandung in 1955, and the significance of the Bandung Spirit for the world today.

The Bandung Conference marked “the first time that the countries of the Global South united to oppose imperialism and colonialism in defense of their sovereign rights and a more equitable world.” The significance of this united front against imperialism resonated across the world, including with the great African-American freedom fighter Malcolm X, who said in his Message to the Grassroots that the attendees of the conference “began to recognise who their enemy was” and formed a common front against colonialism and imperialism on this basis.

At Bandung all the nations came together. Their were dark nations from Africa and Asia. Some of them were Buddhists. Some of them were Muslim. Some of them were Christians. Some of them were Confucianists; some were atheists. Despite their religious differences, they came together. Some were communists; some were socialists; some were capitalists. Despite their economic and political differences, they came together.

Opening the conference, Indonesian President Sukarno stated:

Wherever, whenever and however it appears, colonialism is an evil thing, and it must be eradicated from the earth. I hope our conference will give evidence of the fact that we Asian and African leaders understand that Asia and Africa can prosper only when they are united, and that even the safety of the world at large cannot be safeguarded without a united Asia-Africa.

The article notes that Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai played a key role in the conference, proposing the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which became “a crucial component of the Bandung Spirit and were later accepted by the vast majority of countries worldwide as the basic norms of international relations and the basic principles of international law.”

The Bandung Spirit remains as relevant as ever, in a world where the imperialist powers are still seeking to preserve their hegemony and suppress the development of the Global South. The article cites a 2015 speech by President Xi Jinping, Carry Forward the Bandung Spirit for Win-win Cooperation as follows:

We must carry forward the Bandung Spirit by enriching it with new elements consistent with changing times, by pushing for a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation, by promoting a more just and equitable international order and system.

The Bandung Spirit continues to inform China’s foreign policy and its approach to the united front against imperialism and for development. The article concludes:

Today, almost seven decades after the conference, the Bandung Spirit carries on, inspiring countries in the Global South to embark on a new path of common development through win-win cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative and other platforms.

“Few cities in history have won so many hearts and minds as Bandung,” the late Honorary President of the People’s Republic of China, Soong Ching Ling, commented on the Indonesian city.

The historic Asian-African Conference, also known as the Bandung Conference, was held in the city on April 18, 1955. It marked the first time that the countries of the Global South united to oppose imperialism and colonialism in defense of their sovereign rights and a more equitable world.

Continue reading 69 years on, the Bandung Spirit remains alive in the Global South

Understanding the role of the private sector in the Chinese economy

We are pleased to publish below the text of a speech by Dr Jenny Clegg at a public meeting in Manchester, Britain, organised by the Greater Manchester Morning Star Readers and Supporters Group. The title of the event was China and the Western Left, and it aimed to uncover the nature of China’s political economy and its role in the world. The other guest speaker was Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez.

Jenny’s speech seeks to explain the role of the private sector in the current phase of China’s development. Jenny lays the ground for understanding today’s domestic capitalist class by uncovering the role of the national bourgeoisie in the history of the Chinese Revolution, including in the massive strike wave of the 1920s, the United Front to resist Japanese invasion, and the period of rebuilding during the New Democracy phase between 1949 and 1956. Jenny posits that this group, while not always reliable, “had an anti-imperialist side” and furthermore “was prepared to accept CPC leadership in the right circumstances – something still influencing the CPC’s attitude to today’s private entrepreneurs.”

The speech explains the unusual nature of China’s socialist market economy, in which the public and private sectors have an essentially symbiotic relationship, and where the state maintains overall control.

“The majority of large-scale private enterprises are linked into the state through mixed-ownership arrangements, with the state investing and divesting to shape industrial growth according to overall plans… Around 40 percent of private entrepreneurs are Party members and around half of private enterprises have CPC cells organised within them. Over 40 percent of workplaces so far are unionised, more than twice the rate here in Britain.”

As such, “the relationship then between the socialist state and the private sector is one of unity in developing the economy as well as struggle to ensure public benefit.”

A member of our advisory group, Jenny is a retired academic and an activist in the anti-nuclear, peace and friendship movements. She is the author of China’s Global Strategy: Towards a Multipolar World, published by Pluto Press.

The major stumbling point for the Western Left in understanding China as a socialist country is the question of the growth in recent decades of market relations and the private sector. This question requires in the first place a consideration of the contribution that the domestic capitalist class made in China’s revolutionary process before getting some measure of the private economy in China today.

The historical role of the national bourgeoisie in the Chinese revolution

One hundred years ago – minus one year – in 1925, on May 30, a British officer ordered the police in the Shanghai British concession to open fire on Chinese protestors, killing at least nine of them. The protests were part of a mounting strike wave in which the Communist Party of China (CPC) – founded in 1921 – was very active, and the incident sparked some momentous developments as anti-imperialist feelings surged.

Ayear-long strike in Hong Kong, starting in 1925, dealt a great blow to British imperialism, which from its island base had extended its influence, becoming the leading imperialist power not only in China but across Southeast Asia. The fact that Chinese capitalists supported and funded the strike, showing they too had an anti-imperialist side, was a particular lesson for the CPC.

The Kuomintang (KMT), supported by the CPC in the first United Front, began to prepare its army for the Northern Expeditionwhich set off in 1926to overthrow the feudal warlords and imperialist rule. As it advanced, peasant associations spread like wildfire.

The British Tory government launched a 20,000 strong expeditionary force; and in due course cities along the Yangtze came under British bombardment.

And in Britain, Hands off China became the largest anti-imperialist movement during the General Strike.

The situation in China became highly radicalised as peasants’ moderate demands for rent reductions gave way to land seizures and workers took over the British concession in Wuhan. These developments caused KMT Nationalist army officers to take fright, and what followed was a brutal massacre of communists in Shanghai, ordered by KMT head Chiang Kai-shek. Too late, the remaining CPC activists formed their own Red Army but, failing to capture an urban base, retreated to the mountains to set up worker-peasant soviets.

Over the next ten years, the CPC carried out various land reform policies with limited success. It was Mao who recognised the Leftist errors thatfailed to take capital into account in implementing reforms to eradicate feudal relations. Taking corrective measures, following the Long March (1934-35), by the time the Japanese escalated its occupation of China in 1937, the CPC was ready to meet the new anti-imperialist upsurge by entering a second United Front of resistance with the KMT. 

In the red base areas under its control, the CPC moderated its land reform policies, and the two-class Soviet strategy was replaced with a New Democratic alliance including the national bourgeoisie as well as the petty bourgeoisie.

These adjustment proved a great success: in the eight years to the defeat of Japan in 1945, the red bases grew from a population of one million to nearly 100 million people, almost a quarter of China, and the Red Army from 30,000 to 900,000.

New Democracy was to continue through the ensuing years of civil war (1945-49), the founding of the People’s Republic (1949), up to the 1956 transition to socialism.

In 1949, whilst others fled, some capitalists stayed on to make valuable contributions to China’s recovery. The fact that China was able to stabilise within three years to 1952 after a century of wars and economic ruin was truly remarkable.

Then in 1956, when private enterprises were nationalised, these former owners stayed on as managers, as Mao declared the contradiction with the national bourgeoisie, now antagonistic under socialism, was to be handled in non-antagonistic ways, that is by ideological struggle.

History thus shows the important role the nationalist capitalist class played in the Chinese revolution: if not always reliable, not only did it have an anti-imperialist side but it was prepared to accept CPC leadership in the right circumstances – something still influencing the CPC’s attitude to today’s private entrepreneurs.

Continue reading Understanding the role of the private sector in the Chinese economy

People gather to celebrate the life of communist activist Claudia Jones

Comrades from Friends of Socialist China participated in the third annual commemoration of the birth of Claudia Jones (21 February 1915) organised by the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) at her graveside, to the left of Karl Marx, in London’s Highgate Cemetery on Sunday February 25. 

Claudia was outstanding activist and leader of the US, British and international communist movements, who creatively enriched and developed Marxist-Leninist theory on questions of national, racial and gender oppression in particular. A staunch friend of China, she met with Chairman Mao Zedong on her 1964 visit to the People’s Republic, shortly before her tragically early death at the age of 49.

More than 50 people attended the ceremony including a delegation from the Chinese Embassy led by Minister Zhao Fei.

Dr. Claire Holder, who was the longest serving Director of the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s largest street festival that was originally inspired by Claudia, read the text of her February 2, 1953 speech from the dock immediately before she was imprisoned under US anti-communist legislation on account of her struggle for peace and in particular against what she called the “bestial Korean war”, which was then still raging.  

In a speech that surely ranks among the greatest made by a communist revolutionary before a bourgeois court, Claudia noted that she was being sentenced for an appeal that, “urges American mothers, Negro women and white, to emulate the peace struggles of their anti-fascist sisters in Latin America, in the new European democracies, in the Soviet Union, in Asia and Africa to end the bestial Korean war, to stop ‘Operation Killer’, to bring our boys home, to reject the militarist threat to embroil us in a war with China, so that their children should not suffer the fate of the Korean babies murdered by napalm bombs of B-29s, or the fate of Hiroshima.

“Is all this not further proof that what we were also tried for was our opposition to racist ideas, so integral a part of the desperate drive by the men of Wall Street to war and fascism.”

This theme was echoed in speeches by CPB General Secretary Robert Griffiths, who referred to the immense destruction visited upon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Korean people during the war of 1950-53, and by historian David Horsley of the CPB’s Anti-Racist and Anti-Fascist Committee, and the author of a pamphlet on Claudia’s life, who said that if she were still with us, Claudia would surely be at the head of every demonstration in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza. 

Other speakers were veteran Pan-Africanist activist and scholar Cecil Gutzmore and Fran Heathcote, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the largest trade union representing civil servants in the UK. The proceedings were chaired by CPB Chair Ruth Styles.

Floral tributes were paid by the Chinese Embassy, the CPB, the CPB London District Committee, the Young Communist League, PCS, the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils and Friends of Socialist China. Among the attendees were Michael and Paul Crook, sons of the veteran communists and lifelong friends of China, Isabel and David Crook. Michael is also a member of the Friends of Socialist China advisory group.

The following report was originally published by the Morning Star.

More than 50 people gathered at London’s historic Highgate Cemetery on Sunday to celebrate the life of legendary communist activist Claudia Jones.

Jones, who is buried to the left of Karl Marx, died on Christmas Day 1964, having made a massive contribution to the movement for socialism in the United States and Britain.

Among the speakers was Fran Heathcote, the first female general secretary of the PCS union.

She highlighted the continued attacks and superexploitation of low-paid women and black members who work in outsourced industries.

Leading pan-African activist Cecil Gutzmore highlighted the continued racism faced by the black community in Britain.

Historian David Horsley said that he was convinced that “comrade Claudia would have been at the forefront of today’s fight for migrants and refugees.”

Dr Clare Holder, a past director of the Notting Hill Carnival, read out the statement Jones made to the US court before her deportation to Britain. She said it was as “powerful as others made by others such as Castro and Mandela.”

Communist Party general secretary Rob Griffiths recalled how the Smith Act in the US “was used against trade unionists, socialists as well as communists.”

Isabel Crook: an appreciation

We are very pleased to publish this touching and informative tribute to the outstanding communist and lifelong friend of China, Isabel Crook (1915-2023), written by her close friend of many decades, Dr. Jenny Clegg.

Jenny, a retired academic, peace activist and member of our advisory group, provides rich insights in the course of summing up Isabel’s lifelong commitment to the Chinese revolution, her unique and path breaking approach to anthropology, her deep empathy for China’s rural poor, and her enduring yet careful optimism regarding the future of socialist China.

We previously reported on Isabel’s death, including here. Among many other obituaries were those published by British newspapers, The TimesFinancial Times, Guardian, and Economist; the New York Times and Canada’s Globe and Mail

“A rare bridge between the West and China”; “a committed communist”; “a peoples’ diplomat”; “a pioneering anthropologist” – so read the obituaries for Isabel Crook (1915-2023). Indeed, she was all of these in one.

Isabel’s 107 years, almost all spent in China, were to span two world wars, two great revolutions, a socialist transition under a Cold War, all through the twists and turns of Mao’s mass campaigns to Deng’s reform and opening up, with China now led by Xi Jinping stepping onto the world stage.

No mere observer, Isabel’s participation in the New China along with husband David saw them personally suffer under the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.  Isabel was kept in confinement for three years by Red Guards, in a room on the top floor of a campus building separated from her boys, still only teenagers, and with husband David in prison. Freed from detention in 1972, both were cleared of all charges in 1973 and, along with other foreign experts, received an apology from Premier Zhou Enlai.

Her commitment was again put to the test with the suppression of the Tiananmen protests in 1989 – the Crooks had called on the government not to use force. Yet despite all this Isabel was to remain optimistic as to China’s future under CPC leadership.

To properly appreciate Isabel’s special contribution to understanding China, and the reasons why she never succumbed to disillusionment, requires both a consideration of her life experiences as well as her anthropological work on rural China.

In particular, through many months spent in the rural areas, living among the people gathering materials on village life, Isabel was to develop a particular empathy for Chinese country folk. Her two separate studies of villages undergoing reform, under first a Nationalist, then a Communist-led government, provided deep insight from a comparison between the failure of one and the success of the other.

Early influences: the Rural Reconstruction Movement

Isabel was born in China, the daughter of Canadian missionary educators.  Leaving for Canada to study, she was to graduate from the University of Toronto with a bachelors and then a masters degree[1] [2] , returning to China in 1939 aged 24 to do anthropological field research in the western province of Sichuan among the Yi, a slave owning society. 

From this remote ‘opium country’, she moved nearer to the wartime capital of Chongqing in 1941 to take part in a year-long ‘action research’ project sponsored by the National Christian Council.  Hired by rural reformer, THSun, Isabel was to carry out a survey of a small market town of 1,500 households.  With the overwhelming majority of its families living in desperate poverty, Prosperity township was decidedly ill-named.

Joining a small team including two experts on cooperatives, Isabel was introduced to the progressive ideas of the rural reconstruction movement.  Founded in 1926 by the influential James Yen, whose work in mass literacy, begun amongst the Chinese labourers in France during World War I, was to gain international acclaim, the movement had a strong following among China’s Christian community and the left wing of the nationalist KMT.

Continue reading Isabel Crook: an appreciation

Xi Jinping speech at the symposium commemorating the 130th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong

The article below is the full text of the speech given by Comrade Xi Jinping at the meeting held in Beijing on the morning of December 26, 2023, to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the birth of Comrade Mao Zedong.

In his speech, Xi gives a comprehensive exposition of key revolutionary contributions of Mao Zedong and salient features of Mao Zedong Thought, as well as key tasks facing China today on the basis of the foundations laid by the preceding generations of Chinese revolutionaries, the foremost of whom was Mao Zedong, and in the new era.

Xi Jinping begins his speech by stating that:

“Today, with great reverence, we solemnly assemble here to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the birth of Comrade Mao Zedong, the main founder of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the People’s Republic of China, and the great leader of the Chinese people of all nationalities.

“Comrade Mao Zedong was a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist, and theoretician, a great pioneer of the Sinicisation of Marxism, a great founder of China’s socialist modernisation, a great patriot and national hero of China in modern times, the core of the party’s first generation of central collective leadership, a generation of great men who led the Chinese people to completely change their own destiny and the appearance of the country, and a great internationalist who made major contributions to the liberation of the oppressed nations of the world and the cause of human progress.”

Noting the ruinous state of China at the time of Mao’s birth, Xi said that: “When he was young, Comrade Mao Zedong set up a lofty ambition to save the nation from danger and threw himself into the great cause of saving the country and the people… and, in the course of repeated comparisons and explorations, resolutely chose Marxism-Leninism and the lofty ideal of striving for the realisation of communism.”

“Comrade Mao Zedong’s life was a life of unremitting struggle for the prosperity and strength of the country, the rejuvenation of the nation, and the happiness of the people. During the period of the new democratic revolution, the Chinese Communists with Comrade Mao Zedong as the main representative united and led the people to fight bloody battles and persevere, defeat Japanese imperialism, overthrow the reactionary rule of the Kuomintang, complete the new democratic revolution, establish the People’s Republic of China, and realise national independence and the people being masters of the country that the Chinese have dreamed of since modern times. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, they united and led the people to be self-reliant, work hard to make the country strong, carry out the socialist revolution, eliminate the feudal system of exploitation and oppression that had lasted for thousands of years, establish the basic socialist system, and promote socialist construction, thus bringing about the most extensive and profound social changes in the history of the Chinese nation, making great achievements in socialist construction, making China a major country with important influence in the world, and accumulating important experience in socialist construction in a country with a very backward level of social productive forces like China.

“During his difficult and brilliant fighting career of several decades, Comrade Mao Zedong made indelible historical contributions to the Chinese nation and the Chinese people and made glorious historical contributions for thousands of years.

“Comrade Mao Zedong led the people to initiate the historical process of Sinicising Marxism. Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary practice. The basic tenets of Marxism have universal applicability, and only when they are integrated with the realities of various countries can the powerful force of truth be displayed. Comrade Mao Zedong said:

“”The great strength of Marxism-Leninism lies in the fact that it is linked to the specific revolutionary practice of various countries. As far as the Communist Party of China is concerned, it is necessary to learn how to apply Marxist-Leninist theories to China’s specific environment.””

Mao Zedong Thought, Xi explained, “is the creative application and development of Marxism-Leninism in China, the correct theoretical principles and summation of experience of China’s revolution and construction that have been proven by practice, and the first historical leap in the Sinicisation of Marxism. Comrade Mao Zedong applied dialectical materialism and historical materialism to all the work of the proletarian political party, and formed a stand, viewpoint, and method with the distinctive characteristics of the Chinese communists in the protracted and arduous struggle of China’s revolution and construction, which were embodied in the three basic aspects of seeking truth from facts, the mass line, and independence and self-determination. This is the living soul of Mao Zedong Thought. Mao Zedong Thought is the precious spiritual wealth of our party and will guide our actions for a long time.”

Having outlined the development of Mao’s thinking on party building, Xi noted that: “After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Comrade Mao Zedong actively explored the laws governing the building of the ruling party, stressed the need to always maintain a modest and cautious style, guard against arrogance and rashness and work hard, be highly vigilant and make efforts to prevent corruption and degeneration of party members and cadres, and resolutely punish corruption, and so on, thus accumulating preliminary experience in party building under the conditions of being in power.”

Xi further explained how, “in 1956, China basically completed the socialist transformation of the private ownership of the means of production, basically realised the public ownership of the means of production and distribution according to work, and established a socialist economic system,” adding that the “socialist system established under the leadership of Comrade Mao Zedong, which is rooted in the land of China, conforms to China’s national conditions, and embodies the aspirations of the people, is incomparably superior, and has not only played an important role in promoting socialist revolution and construction, but has also laid the fundamental political premise and institutional foundation for all development and progress in contemporary China.”

He also outlined Mao’s contributions to the building of a people’s army: “Comrade Mao Zedong led the people to create a new type of people’s army that was invincible. Without a people’s army, the people have nothing. Comrade Mao Zedong was the first to propose and lead the work of armed struggle and the creation of a people’s army. In the course of the extremely arduous revolutionary war, he systematically solved the problem of how to build the revolutionary army, with the peasants as the main component, into a new type of people’s army with a proletarian nature, strict discipline, and close ties with the masses of the people. He laid down the sole purpose of the people’s army to serve the people wholeheartedly… [and] the principle that the party commands the gun… The people’s army personally created by Comrade Mao Zedong has become an armed force loyal to the party and faithfully carrying out revolutionary political tasks, an army that completely and thoroughly struggles for the Chinese people, and a strong pillar for ensuring national independence, people’s happiness, and national defence consolidation.”

In summary: “Comrade Mao Zedong dedicated his life to the party and the people, leaving behind the lofty spiritual demeanour of future generations. Comrade Mao Zedong has displayed a great revolutionary leader’s far-sighted political vision, unswerving revolutionary conviction, extraordinary courage to open up new ground, perfect art of struggle, outstanding and superb leadership ability, pure feelings for the people, open-minded and broad-minded realm, and fine style of arduous struggle, and has won the love and admiration of the whole party and the people of all nationalities throughout the country.”

However, Xi continued: “Socialism is a completely new cause in the history of humanity, and since China is carrying out socialist revolution and construction on an extremely backward basis, there is no ready-made experience to draw on, and it is difficult to completely avoid twists and turns and mistakes of one kind or another on the road ahead… It cannot be denied that Comrade Mao Zedong made detours in the exploration of the road of socialist construction, especially the serious mistake of launching and leading the ‘Cultural Revolution’. Our party has made a comprehensive appraisal of Comrade Mao Zedong’s historical merits and demerits, and his achievements are the first, his mistakes are second, and his mistakes are the mistakes made by a great revolutionary and a great Marxist.”

Before going on to detail China’s present situation and tasks, Xi emphasised:

“The best way to commemorate Comrade Mao Zedong is to continue to push forward the cause he started. Comprehensively promoting the construction of a strong country and the great cause of national rejuvenation with Chinese-style modernisation is the central task of the whole party and the people of all ethnic groups in the new era and new journey. This is the unfinished business of Mao Zedong and other revolutionaries of the older generation, and it is the solemn historical responsibility of the contemporary Chinese communists. On the new journey, we must not forget our original aspiration, keep our mission firmly in mind, strengthen historical self-confidence, grasp the historical initiative, and continue to push forward the grand cause of Chinese-style modernisation.

“It is necessary to fully arouse the historical initiative of all the people. The people, and only the people, are the driving force behind the creation of world history. Chinese-style modernisation is the cause of all Chinese people, and we must closely rely on the people and gather the infinite wisdom and strength hidden in the people in order to continuously create new historical achievements. We must adhere to the basic viewpoint of historical materialism that the people are the fundamental driving force for creating history, uphold the people’s status as the main body, fully respect the people’s expressed wishes, the experiences they create, the rights they have, and the roles they play, and take the safeguarding, realisation, and development of the fundamental interests of the broadest masses of the people as the starting point and end goal of all our work, so that the fruits of modernisation can benefit all the people in a more equitable way.”

In analysing the present situation in China, Xi stressed once again the absolute necessity of continuing and not relaxing the struggle against corruption:

“Corruption is the greatest cancer that endangers the party’s vitality and combat effectiveness, and the anti-corruption struggle cannot cease for a moment. It is necessary to persist in promoting the integration of not daring to be corrupt, not being able to be corrupt, and not wanting to be corrupt, deepening the treatment of both the symptoms and the root causes, and systematically treating them, continuing to maintain a high-pressure posture of punishing corruption, resolutely investigating and dealing with corruption where political and economic problems are intertwined, resolutely preventing leading cadres from becoming spokesmen and agents of interest groups and powerful groups, deepening the rectification of corruption in areas where power is concentrated… and resolutely winning the battle against corruption by fighting a tough and protracted battle, so as to ensure that our party will never change its quality, colour, or taste.”

And he concluded:

“Today, the great cause pioneered by Mao Zedong and other revolutionaries of the older generation is thriving, the great ideals they pursued are becoming reality, and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is showing unprecedented bright prospects. Let us unite more closely, seize the day, fight tenaciously, follow the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and forge ahead bravely for the great cause of building a strong country and national rejuvenation in an all-round way with Chinese-style modernisation!”

The below version of Comrade Xi’s speech was released by Xinhua News Agency and published in Chinese by People’s Daily. It has been machine translated and lightly edited by us. It is anticipated that an authorised English-language translation of the speech will be published in due course.

Comrades and friends

Today, with great reverence, we solemnly assemble here to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the birth of Comrade Mao Zedong, the main founder of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the People’s Republic of China, and the great leader of the Chinese people of all nationalities.

Continue reading Xi Jinping speech at the symposium commemorating the 130th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong

China marks the 130th birthday of Chairman Mao Zedong

The Chinese people commemorated the 130th birthday of Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of New China, which fell on December 26, in numerous ways, from solemn gatherings at the highest level to countless informal and spontaneous gatherings throughout the country.

On the morning of December 26, Cai Qi, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee presided over a symposium in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. 

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Chinese President, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivered an important speech. Xi emphasised that:

  • Mao was a great Marxist, and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist, and theorist.
  • He was a great trailblazer in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, and laid the groundwork of China’s socialist modernisation.
  • He was a great patriot and national hero in modern Chinese history and the core of the Party’s first generation of central leadership.
  • He was a great man who led the Chinese people to change their destiny and the nation as a whole, and
  • A great internationalist who made significant contributions to the liberation of oppressed nations and the cause of human progress worldwide.

Mao Zedong Thought, the Chinese leader added, is the precious spiritual asset of our Party and will continue to guide what we do for a long time to come. The best way to commemorate Mao is to continuously advance the cause he initiated.

Xi pointed out that Mao devoted his life to achieving national prosperity, rejuvenating the Chinese nation, and promoting people’s well-being. He led the people in starting the historical process of adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, forging the great, glorious, and correct Communist Party of China, founding the New China with the people enjoying the status as masters of the country, creating an advanced socialist system, and building a new model of people’s army that is invincible. He made indelible historical contributions to the Chinese nation and the Chinese people and made shining contributions that will go down in history.

Xi further emphasised that Comrade Mao Zedong dedicated his entire life to the Party and the people, leaving behind a lofty and inspirational spirit for future generations. Comrade Mao, as a great revolutionary leader, demonstrated far-sighted political vision, firm revolutionary conviction, extraordinary courage to blaze a new trail, perfect art of waging struggle, outstanding leadership, deep concern for the people, an open and broad-minded demeanour, and an exemplary work ethic of hard endeavour. As a result, he earned the love and respect of the entire Party and people of all ethnic groups. Comrade Mao’s noble spirit will forever be a motivating force inspiring us to forge ahead.

On the new journey, he continued, we must never forget our original aspiration and founding mission, be confident in our history, and take historical initiative to continuously advance the great cause of Chinese modernisation.

Chinese modernisation, Xi noted, is the cause of the Chinese people, and we must closely rely on the people, pool the inexhaustible wisdom and strength inherent in the people, and fully motivate the historical initiative of the people. It is crucial to adhere to the fundamental viewpoint of historical materialism that the people are the fundamental driving force in creating history, uphold the people’s principal position, take it as the fundamental purpose of our work to defend, realise and develop the fundamental interests of the vast majority of the people, so as to ensure that all the Chinese people share the achievements of modernisation in a more equitable manner. Efforts should be made to establish systems that ensure the people’s status as masters of the country, improve the mechanisms that uphold social fairness and justice, focus on ensuring and improving people’s well-being, follow the mass line in the new era, always maintain a close connection with the people, accept criticism and supervision from the people, always breathe the same air as the people, share the same future, and stay truly connected to them, in order to provide the most reliable, profound, and sustainable source of strength for advancing Chinese modernisation.

Xi emphasised that reform and opening up is a major reason why China is able to catch up with the times, and it is the key move that determines whether Chinese modernisation will succeed and went on to stress the need to continuously liberate and develop the social productive forces and unleash and enhance social vitality. It is imperative to adapt to the new trends of the times, meet the new requirements of development, and fulfil the new expectations of the people, he said.

Xi pointed out that Chinese modernisation is the socialist modernisation led by the CPC. Only by always staying alert and determined to tackle the unique challenges that a large party like ours faces, and by strengthening the Party more vigorously, can we ensure that Chinese modernisation advances through waves and storms, and steadily moves forward.

It is important to continue to take coordinated steps to see that officials do not have the audacity, opportunity, or desire to become corrupt, so that the Party can remain true to its original aspiration and mission, and at the forefront of the times, and always stay vibrant and vigorous. By doing so, we can ensure that the Party will never change its nature, its conviction, or its character.

Cai Qi, chairing the meeting, noted how affectionately General Secretary Xi, in his important speech, had looked back upon the great practices of Comrade Mao Zedong in leading China’s revolution and construction, and how he has recognised the monumental achievements Comrade Mao Zedong made for the Chinese nation and Chinese people. He went on to note that Xi had proposed explicit requirements for commemorating Comrade Mao Zedong with concrete actions and with efforts to push ahead with the magnificent cause of Chinese modernisation.

Before the symposium, Xi Jinping and other leaders visited the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall where, in accordance with the Chinese custom denoting the highest respect, they bowed three times to the seated statue of Comrade Mao Zedong, and then proceeded to pay respects to his remains.

A further symposium marking the 130th anniversary of the birth of Mao was held in Beijing from December 26-28. At the opening ceremony, Cai Qi stressed the importance of honouring the monumental achievements made by Comrade Mao Zedong, passing on his thought and lofty spirit, advocating the great founding spirit of the Party, and making greater progress in theoretical studies. Cai called on social scientists and theoretical researchers to produce more high-quality research findings in the study of Mao Zedong Thought.

Probably the largest gathering held around the country was that in Mao’s birthplace, Shaoshan, where more than 110,000 people from around the country gathered, with spontaneous mass celebrations and commemorative activities beginning on the afternoon of December 25.

The Chinese newspaper Global Times quoted a middle aged woman from Yunnan province in south-west China as saying that she was surprised and excited to join tens of thousands of people singing, dancing, reciting poems, and waving flags on Mao Zedong Square at midnight. 

Another impressive point for her was the large number of young people present. “I used to think that only middle-aged people and the older generation felt strongly about Chairman Mao. It wasn’t until I arrived here that I realised there are so many young people who respect and remember the stories about Chairman Mao,” she said. “Our younger generation is full of vitality and hope.” 

The paper further reported a 21-year-old college student as having animated discussions with the older generation on the square. He defined his feelings for Mao Zedong as “sublime faith.” 

“As young people of the new generation, we have never forgotten Chairman Mao’s contributions to the Chinese people,” he told the Global Times. “It is our responsibility as young people to inherit the Chairman’s revolutionary spirit and become the backbone of China.”  

He added that some Western media and politicians have interpreted young people’s worshipping Mao Zedong as representing a narrow nationalism, but he rejected this saying:

“Our feelings for Chairman Mao are not narrow worship, but a hope to inherit his idea that ‘the world belongs to the people.’ The ultimate ideal is world harmony. How could this be a form of narrow nationalism?” 

On the morning of December 26, visitors from across China, gathered in Shaoshan, were served a free breakfast of birthday noodles, recalling that the Chairman had never celebrated his birthday in his lifetime, simply eating a bowl of noodles. They then gathered again at Mao Zedong Square, where a flower laying ceremony was held, and everyone present bowed to Mao Zedong’s statue, followed by the many thousands of people singing together the revolutionary song “The East is Red,” written in praise of Mao Zedong.

The following articles were originally published by the Xinhua News Agency and Global Times.

Symposium held to commemorate 130th anniversary of Comrade Mao Zedong’s birth, Xi delivers important speech

BEIJING, Dec. 27 (Xinhua) — On the morning of Dec. 26, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held a symposium at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to commemorate the 130th anniversary of Comrade Mao Zedong’s birth. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Chinese president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivered an important speech. He emphasized that Mao was a great Marxist, and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist, and theorist. He was a great trailblazer in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, and laid the groundwork of China’s socialist modernization. He was a great patriot and national hero in modern Chinese history, and the core of the Party’s first generation of central leadership. He was a great man who led the Chinese people to change their destiny and the nation as a whole, and a great internationalist who made significant contributions to the liberation of oppressed nations and the cause of human progress worldwide. Mao Zedong Thought is the precious spiritual asset of our Party and will continue to guide what we do for a long time to come. The best way to commemorate Mao is to continuously advance the cause he initiated.

Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi, all members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, attended the event. Cai Qi, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, presided over the symposium.

In his speech, Xi pointed out that Mao devoted his life to achieving national prosperity, rejuvenating the Chinese nation, and promoting people’s well-being. He led the people in starting the historical process of adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, forging the great, glorious, and correct Communist Party of China, founding the New China with the people enjoying the status as masters of the country, creating an advanced socialist system, and building a new model of people’s army that is invincible. He made indelible historical contributions to the Chinese nation and the Chinese people, and made shining contributions that will go down in history.

Xi emphasized that Comrade Mao Zedong dedicated his entire life to the Party and the people, leaving behind a lofty and inspirational spirit for future generations. Comrade Mao, as a great revolutionary leader, demonstrated far-sighted political vision, firm revolutionary conviction, extraordinary courage to blaze a new trail, perfect art of waging struggle, outstanding leadership, deep concern for the people, an open and broad-minded demeanor, and an exemplary work ethic of hard endeavor. As a result, he earned the love and respect of the entire Party and people of all ethnic groups. Comrade Mao’s noble spirit will forever be a motivating force inspiring us to forge ahead.

Xi stated that advancing the building of China into a strong country and realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a path to Chinese modernization is the central task for the entire Party and people of all ethnic groups on the new journey in the new era. This is an unrealized cause of the older generation of revolutionaries such as Mao Zedong, and is the solemn historical responsibility of contemporary Chinese communists. On the new journey, we must never forget our original aspiration and founding mission, be confident in our history, and take historical initiative to continuously advance the great cause of Chinese modernization.

Xi emphasized that Chinese modernization is the cause of the Chinese people, and we must closely rely on the people, pool the inexhaustible wisdom and strength inherent in the people, and fully motivate the historical initiative of the people. It is crucial to adhere to the fundamental viewpoint of historical materialism that the people are the fundamental driving force in creating history, uphold the people’s principal position, take it as the fundamental purpose of our work to defend, realize and develop the fundamental interests of the vast majority of the people, so as to ensure that all the Chinese people share the achievements of modernization in a more equitable manner. Efforts should be made to establish systems that ensure the people’s status as masters of the country, improve the mechanisms that uphold social fairness and justice, focus on ensuring and improving people’s well-being, follow the mass line in the new era, always maintain a close connection with the people, accept criticism and supervision from the people, always breathe the same air as the people, share the same future, and stay truly connected to them, in order to provide the most reliable, profound, and sustainable source of strength for advancing Chinese modernization.

Continue reading China marks the 130th birthday of Chairman Mao Zedong

International Publishers, the Chinese Revolution, and world socialism

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.

Dear friends,

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.”

Continue reading International Publishers, the Chinese Revolution, and world socialism

In Xi Jinping’s China, is Chairman Mao back?

Marking the 130th anniversary of Comrade Mao Zedong’s birth, Morning Star editor Ben Chacko published this thoughtful response to the Western media scare stories about President Xi Jinping leading a “reversion to Maoism.” Ben points out that this theme “is inseparable from a wider narrative in which China is becoming more adversarial and threatening” – a narrative which is being used to justify an escalating New Cold War on China.

Ben observes that there has been significant continuity from one leadership generation to the next in terms of China’s overall political trajectory and goals, and “the idea post-Mao China decisively broke with Mao is not one which has ever been accepted by Chinese leaders.” The pursuit of an advanced socialism is core to the whole history of the CPC. “Though most Western observers assumed China’s theory of the ‘primary stage of socialism’ was merely an excuse for continued Communist Party rule over a capitalist country, Xi’s policies conform precisely to what the party said it was intending to do all along.”

Nonetheless, Ben recognises that with a renewed emphasis on common prosperity, with the crackdown on corruption and excessive wealth, and with China’s growing voice and influence on the world stage, there are certain parallels between Xi Jinping’s leadership and that of Mao Zedong. “If Xi echoes Mao, it is perhaps because the questions which absorbed the Chairman, from wealth differentials to China’s role as a leader of the decolonisation movement, are as acute today as they were 50 years ago: with the rise of the global South possibly a greater challenge to imperialism even than the Soviet Union was.”

Ben concludes:

When the histories of how the historically brief supremacy of the West came to an end are written, it seems a fair bet that both Mao and Xi will have starring roles.

BOXING Day marks 130 years since the birth of Chairman Mao — a revolutionary whose significance seems all the greater now given the rise of China.

China’s alleged reversion to Maoism under President Xi Jinping is a recurring theme in Western media. A year ago the Guardian was quoting the US-based academic Hu Ping on how Xi was “increasingly reverting to Mao” on domestic policy; outlets from the New York Times to Al Jazeera have referred to Xi as “the new Mao.”

China is certainly celebrating Mao this winter. A new film, When We Were Young, will depict his student years; a TV series, Kunpeng Strikes the Waves, will tell the story of his early activism and discovery of Marxism. The “kun” and “peng” are mythological creatures, or one creature, since the kun, a huge fish, transforms into the peng, a huge bird, whose flight, in the Taoist classic the Zhuangzi, causes storms lasting months and churns up the sea for hundreds of miles around: an indication of how great an impact Mao is deemed to have had on China’s history.

Xi himself has promoted the “back to Mao” narrative. Shortly after his election to a third term leading China’s Communist Party last year, he took the politburo on a high-profile visit to Yan’an, the communist base area after the Long March of the 1930s, from which Mao directed much of the civil war, received Western admirers such as Edgar Snow, and which became a sort of prototype Red China before victory on a national scale in 1949.

In Western depictions, this is inseparable from a wider narrative in which China is becoming more adversarial and threatening.

Where a generation ago it was portrayed as having embraced capitalism, now the leading capitalist countries see it as an enemy its communist character is hyped up.

How real is the shift? Ofcom in 2021 revoked its state broadcaster CGTN’s right to broadcast in Britain, saying it was “ultimately controlled by the Communist Party.” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin noted drily that Britain “knew clearly the nature of our media from CGTN’s first day of reporting in the UK over 10 years ago” and that “China is a communist country led by the Chinese Communist Party” — it was Britain, not China, that had changed its attitude.

A lot of the mainstream narrative about China is frankly nonsense. A politically motivated growth in US sanctions, obediently copied by London and Brussels, is used to claim Xi’s China has turned in on itself and is economically isolated.

But it is under Xi that China has become the biggest trading partner of two-thirds of countries and under Xi that the Belt & Road Initiative has replaced the World Bank as the largest lender of development finance worldwide.

Continue reading In Xi Jinping’s China, is Chairman Mao back?

Was Mao a monster?

To mark the 130st anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, we publish below an extract from the No Great Wall: on the continuities of the Chinese Revolution chapter of Carlos Martinez’s book The East is Still Red – Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century, assessing Mao’s political legacy and focusing in particular on some of the most controversial episodes associated with his leadership.

The extract seeks to provide a detailed and balanced analysis of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and to explain why the bulk of the Chinese population continues to revere Mao and why, in the words of Deng Xiaoping, “the Communist Party of China and the people of China will always look to him like a symbol — a very precious treasure.”

The fundamental reason is that, more than any other individual, Mao Zedong symbolises and is responsible for China’s liberation and the building of Chinese socialism. Carlos writes:

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

To this day, the most popular method for casually denigrating the People’s Republic of China and the record of the 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. 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 and the Cultural Revolution?

Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward, launched in 1958, was an ambitious 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”.[1] In its economic strategy, it represented “a rejection of plodding Soviet-style urban industrialisation,”[2] 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.

For all its shortcomings, the core of the GLF was pithily described by Indian Marxist Vijay Prashad as an “attempt to bring small-scale industry to rural areas.”[3] 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.”[4] Agricultural collectivisation was fast-tracked, and there was 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 the UK (1987-91)) notes in his memoirs: “The peasants were left with small plots of their own, for subsistence farming only. All other activity was for the communal good, to be shared equally. 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.”[5]

The GLF was not overall a success. 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% in 1957 to 4.01% in 1962, lower than its share of 4.59% in 1950.”[6]

The disruption to the basic economic structure of society combined with the sudden withdrawal of Soviet experts in 1960 and a series of terrible droughts and floods to produce poor harvests. Meanwhile, with millions of peasants drafted into the cities to work in factories, “no one was available to reap and to thresh.”[7] The historian Alexander Pantsov opines 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… A shortage of grain developed, and Mao gave the command to decrease the pace of the Great Leap.”[8] Ji Chaozhu observes that “malnutrition leading to edema was common in many areas, and deaths among the rural population increased.”[9]

Continue reading Was Mao a monster?

Marxian Ecology, East and West: Joseph Needham and a non-Eurocentric view of the origins of China’s ecological civilisation

We are pleased to reproduce the below article by John Bellamy Foster, editor of the prestigious socialist journal, Monthly Review, who is also professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, concerning the contributions of the late Dr. Joseph Needham (1900-1995) to the understanding of the deep roots of China’s views on an ecological civilisation in particular and the dialectical nature of much of traditional Chinese philosophy and culture more generally. The article is especially important in that, whilst the contribution of Needham, who, at the time of his death was described by Britain’s Independent newspaper as “possibly the greatest scholar since Erasmus”, to the understanding of science and civilisation in China, the title of his monumental, multi-volume, lifelong work, remains known in some relevant academic circles, for example through the work of the Needham Research Institute, and somewhat more generally through a popular biography by Simon Winchester, his lifelong Marxism, and his significant contributions to Marxist theory, have been all but forgotten.

Bellamy Foster begins by posing the question as to why the most developed version of ecological Marxism is to be found today in China and argues:

“The answer is that there is a much more complex dialectical relation between East and West with respect to materialist dialectics and critical ecology than has been generally supposed, one that stretches back over millennia.”

He further explains that:

“Materialist and dialectical conceptions of nature and history do not start with Karl Marx. The roots of ‘organic naturalism’ and ‘scientific humanism,’ according to the great British Marxist scientist and Sinologist Joseph Needham (李約瑟), author of Science and Civilisation in China, can be traced to the sixth to third centuries BCE both in ancient Greece, beginning with the pre-Socratics and extending to the Hellenistic philosophers, and in ancient China, with the emergence of Daoist and Confucian philosophers during the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty.”

In ‘Within the Four Seas: The Dialogue of East and West’, a 1969 book by Needham, the author noted “the absolute alacrity with which ‘dialectical materialism’ was taken up in China during the Chinese Revolution… The Marxian materialist dialectic, with its deep-seated ecological critique rooted in ancient Epicurean materialism, was in Needham’s view, so closely akin to Chinese Daoist and Confucian philosophies as to create a strong acceptance of Marxian philosophical views in China, particularly since China’s own perennial philosophy was in this roundabout way integrated with modern science. If Daoism was a naturalist philosophy, Confucianism was associated, Needham wrote, with ‘a passion for social justice.'”

Bellamy Foster further notes that: “The Needham thesis, as presented here, can also throw light on the spurious proposition, recently put forward by cultural theorist Jeremy Lent, author of The Patterning Instinct, that the Chinese conception of ecological civilisation is derived entirely from China’s own traditional philosophy, rather than being influenced by Marxism. Lent’s argument fails to acknowledge that ecological civilisation as a critical category was first introduced by Marxist environmentalists in the Soviet Union in its closing decades, and immediately adopted by Chinese thinkers, who were to develop it more fully.”

He acknowledges that, “of course, the Needham thesis may seem obscure at first from the usual standpoint of the Western left”, one reason being a “deep Eurocentrism characteristic of contemporary Marxism in the West, associated with the systematic downplaying of colonialism and imperialism.”

But, also citing the work of the late Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin, Bellamy Foster quotes Needham as explaining that “the basic fallacy of Europocentrism is therefore the tacit assumption that because modern science and technology, which grew up indeed in post-Renaissance Europe, are universal, everything else European is universal also.” However, Bellamy Foster continues:

“Marxist thought and socialism in general have always been radically opposed to Eurocentrism, understood as the ideology of Western colonialism. This is as true of Marx and Frederick Engels, particularly in their later years, as it was of V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. In the twentieth century, moreover, the impetus for revolution shifted to the Global South and its struggle against imperialism, generating in the process new Marxist analyses in the works of figures as distinct as Mao Zedong, Amílcar Cabral, and Che Guevara, all of whom insisted on the need for a world revolution.”

Whilst it is possible to point to traces of European ethnocentrism in some of Marx’s early work, Bellamy Foster notes that, by the late 1850s, he had “become increasingly focused on the critique of colonialism, actively supporting anti-colonial rebellions, and progressively more concerned with analysing the material and cultural conditions of non-Western societies.” This was “further facilitated by the ‘revolution in ethnological time’ with the discovery of prehistory and the rise of anthropological studies, occurring in tandem with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.” In this regard, Bellamy Foster draws a line of demarcation with the recent influential work, ‘Marx in the Anthropocene‘ by the Japanese Marxist Kohei Saito.

Bellamy Foster draws out the connection between Needham’s pioneering work and Xi Jinping’s thoughts on this issue, citing Chinese scholar Huang Chengliang explaining that “the theoretical origins of Xi Jinping’s thought on Ecological Civilisation can be traced to five sources: (1) Marxist philosophy, integrating “the three fundamental theories of ‘dialectics of history, dialectical materialism and dialectics of nature’”; (2) traditional Chinese ecological wisdom on “[human]-nature unity and the law of nature”; (3) the actual historical context of ecological governance in China in response to the ecological crisis; (4) struggles to develop a progressive and ecological model of sustainable development; and (5) the articulation of ecological civilisation as the governing principle of the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

He concludes:

“In Xi’s analysis, the traditional Chinese emphasis on the harmony of humanity and nature, or the view that ‘the human and heaven are united in one,’ is wedded to Marxian ecological views with a seamlessness that can only be explained in terms of Needham’s thesis of the correlative development of organic materialism in both the East and West, with Marxism as the connecting link. From this perspective, the Chinese notion of ecological civilisation, due to its overall theoretical coherence and coupled with China’s rise in general, is likely to play an increasingly prominent role in the development of ecological Marxism worldwide. As Needham wrote: ‘China has in her time learnt much from the rest of the world; now perhaps it is time for the nations and the continents to learn again from her.’”

This article, first published in Monthly Review, is based on a talk presented online to the School of Marxism, Shandong University, in Jinan, in March 2023 and was revised and expanded from an original published version, printed in International Critical Thought, a journal of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Ecological materialism, of which ecological Marxism is the most developed version, is often seen as having its origins exclusively within Western thought. But if that is so, how do we explain the fact that ecological Marxism has been embraced as readily (or indeed, more readily) in the East as in the West, leaping over cultural, historical, and linguistic barriers and leading to the current concept of ecological civilization in China? The answer is that there is a much more complex dialectical relation between East and West with respect to materialist dialectics and critical ecology than has been generally supposed, one that stretches back over millennia.

Materialist and dialectical conceptions of nature and history do not start with Karl Marx. The roots of “organic naturalism” and “scientific humanism,” according to the great British Marxist scientist and Sinologist Joseph Needham (李約瑟), author of Science and Civilization in China, can be traced to the sixth to third centuries BCE both in ancient Greece, beginning with the pre-Socratics and extending to the Hellenistic philosophers, and in ancient China, with the emergence of Daoist and Confucian philosophers during the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty.1 As Samir Amin indicated in his Eurocentrism, the “philosophy of nature [as opposed to metaphysics] is essentially materialist” and constituted a “key breakthrough” in tributary modes of production, both East and West, beginning in the fifth century BCE.2

In Within the Four Seas: The Dialogue of East and West in 1969, Needham noted the absolute alacrity with which “dialectical materialism” was taken up in China during the Chinese Revolution and how this was treated as a great mystery in the West. Nevertheless, the sense of mystery, he contended, did not extend in the same way to the East itself. He wrote: “I can almost imagine Chinese scholars,” confronted with Marxian materialist dialectics, “saying to themselves ‘How astonishing: this is very like our own philosophia perennis integrated with modern science at last come home to us.’”3 The Marxian materialist dialectic, with its deep-seated ecological critique rooted in ancient Epicurean materialism, was in Needham’s view, so closely akin to Chinese Daoist and Confucian philosophies as to create a strong acceptance of Marxian philosophical views in China, particularly since China’s own perennial philosophy was in this roundabout way integrated with modern science. If Daoism was a naturalist philosophy, Confucianism was associated, Needham wrote, with “a passion for social justice.”4

The Needham convergence thesis—or simply the Needham thesis, as I am calling it here—was thus that Marxist materialist dialectics had a special affinity with Chinese organic naturalism as represented especially by Daoism, which was similar to the ancient Epicureanism that lay at the foundations of Marx’s own materialist conception of nature. Like other Marxist scientists and cultural figures associated with what has been called the “second foundation of Marxism,” centered in Britain in the mid-twentieth century, Needham saw Epicureanism as providing many of the initial theoretical principles on which Marxism, as a critical-materialist philosophy, was based.5 It was the similar evolution of organic materialism East and West—but which, in the case of Marxism, was integrated with modern science—that explained dialectical materialism’s profound impact in China.6

Continue reading Marxian Ecology, East and West: Joseph Needham and a non-Eurocentric view of the origins of China’s ecological civilisation

China’s development path, 1949-2022

We are very pleased to republish this important and extremely informative article by Michael Dunford, surveying and explaining China’s development path, 1949-2022. Michael, who is Emeritus Professor at Sussex University in the UK and a Visiting Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is also a member of our Advisory Group.

In his article, China’s path is conceived as a transition from an economically underdeveloped and semi-colonised country of the Global South into a modern socialist country in a multipolar world, where successive steps were shaped by China’s external environment and a succession of contradictions and crises encountered along the way.

Three phases are examined: a turbulent phase of socialist construction in a context of capital shortage and US embargoes; a phase of reform and opening up in an era of neoliberal globalisation, whose early roots lay in the early 1970s’ rapprochement with the US; and a New Era, dating essentially from Xi Jinping’s election as General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee. In each phase, Michael argues, crises and contradictions saw waves of reform, involving successive joint transformations of economic structures and institutions, while each phase was anticipated in the years that preceded it, so opening up actually started in the early 1970s with the rapprochement with the US, and aspects of the New Era, concerned with innovation, green development, common prosperity and an equitable global order, also started to emerge earlier.

For example, the New Era was anticipated as early as the start of the new millennium, when reform and opening up continued, yet with greater attention to the goal of ‘common prosperity’ and the correction of all kinds of imbalances and contradictions associated with the reform era. In addition, it was shaped by a changing international environment in which the US and its allies sought, and are still seeking, to prevent the return of China and ensure continuing US global dominance and control.

This interpretation challenges the notion that the events set in motion at the very end of 1978 amounted to an ideological change of course, not least as the opening to Western capital and integration into world markets dated from at least the early 1970s and were, in fact, envisaged in the years up to 1949. Second, it challenges common negative assessments of the first 30 years of the New China and, indeed, sees them as laying the foundations for later developments in an overall transition to socialism. Third, it emphasises the significance of successive reforms designed to address internal and external contradictions. Fourth, it suggests that the entire path is connected with earlier phases laying the foundations for later phases and with reforms at each stage addressing contradictions generated at earlier stages.

The article notes that Deng Xiaoping repeatedly argued that:

“Predominance of public ownership and common prosperity are the two fundamental socialist principles that we must adhere to. The aim of socialism is to make all our people prosperous, not to create polarisation. If our policies led to polarisation, it would mean that we had failed; if a new bourgeoisie emerged, it would mean that we had strayed from the right path. In encouraging some regions to become prosperous first, we intend that they should inspire others to follow their example and that all of them should help economically backward regions to develop. The same holds good for some individuals.”

Michael then goes on to argue that in the first three decades of reform and opening up, China achieved sustained high rates of GDP growth, but the priority attached to increases in GDP and letting some get rich first was responsible for a series of negative consequences: serious environmental damage, resource depletion, growing inequalities in income and wealth, growing rural–urban and regional disparities, increasing corruption, and a rapid increase in mass incidents relating to employment, land acquisition, demolitions, pollution and official conduct. Addressing these issues from around the turn of the millennium, in 1998, the party leadership took up issues of greatest concern to farmers and, the next year, China’s western development was set in motion to expand domestic demand and drive economic growth in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, and to contribute to ‘common prosperity’. Measures to support North-east and Central China followed.

In conclusion, Michael observes that the new China that emerged from a semi-colonial state and civil war in 1949 was one of the poorest countries in the world. As of today, it is an upper-middle-income country that has lifted all of its 1.4 billion people out of extreme poverty. In terms of material production, it is the largest economy in the world, and as a global actor, it envisages a new international order centred on the equality and sovereignty of all nations, and their right to choose their own development paths.

China’s own progress is a result of: a socialist model that is people- rather than capital-centred and in which politics (what is called ‘Chinese whole-process democracy’) rather than capital rules; avoidance of debt-traps that afflict many developing countries; its ability to preserve its sovereignty in an unjust and unequal world; its capacity to effectively mobilise the energy of its people; and its ability to maintain high rates of investment to drive catch-up industrialisation, urbanisation and rural–urban co-evolution.

China emerged from the turbulent Mao era with a core sovereign socialist industrial system, a doubling of life expectancy, an immense young, healthy and educated population, and a high degree of equity. After relations with the US improved, China embarked on reform and opening up under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping to accelerate the development of the productive forces and allowed some people and places to get rich first in the expectation that others would get rich later. Although almost everyone’s livelihood improved overall (though not at certain times and in certain places), a dramatic growth in inequality and serious environmental and social problems, as well as a need to innovate and reduce reliance on low-wage and low-skilled industries, caused China to address more strongly the goals of common prosperity, green development and economic modernisation. Between 2013–20, it successfully completed an extraordinary campaign to end extreme poverty. At the same time, modernisation goals involve a commitment to more measured and higher-quality development, and scientific, technological and industrial upgrading. In the New Era, however, China is also seeking to identify a distinctive Chinese path to modernisation, that is innovative, ecological, spiritually rich and equitable, and that enriches the lives of all of its people.

This thoroughly researched and detailed article deserves to be studied carefully and widely discussed. It was originally published in the journal Global Discourse.

Abstract

China’s path is conceived as a transition of an economically under-developed and semi-colonised  country of the Global South into a modern socialist country in a multipolar world where successive steps (modes of regulation) were shaped by China’s external environment (uneven and combined development) and a succession of contradictions and crises encountered along the way. Three phases are examined: a turbulent phase of socialist construction in a context of capital shortage and United States (US) embargoes, a phase of reform an opening up in an era of neo-liberal globalisation whose early roots lay in early 1970s rapprochement with the US, and a New Era dating from 2017. In each phase crises and contradictions saw waves of reform involving successive joint transformations of economic structures and institutions, while each phase was anticipated in the years that preceded it, so opening-up started in the early 1970s with the rapprochement with the US and aspects of the New Era concern with innovation, green development, common prosperity and an equitable global order started to emerge earlier.

1 Introduction

China is one of the world’s most ancient civilizations marked by the reproduction of recognizable Chinese social, political and cultural characteristics. These characteristics were shaped by several thousand years of dynastic and imperial rule, by earlier socio-political orders made up of an ocean of local rural communities centred around patriarchal families, a single centre of political power and hierarchical administrations occasionally removed as a result of the loss of the Mandate of Heaven (expressing the dependence of the political legitimacy of ruling elites on the consent and wellbeing of the great majority of the Chinese people) and by Confucian, Daoist, Buddhist, Legalist and more recently Marxist values and thought that exercise important influences to this day.

Until the Eighteenth Century, China was a world leader in science and technology. In 1750 it accounted for 32.8% of world manufactures. By 1860, however, its share had declined to just 19.7%, and, by 1913, it was a mere 3.6% (Bairoch 1997: volume 3, p. 860). In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries neither the crisis-ridden Qing (Manchu) Dynasty nor the post-2011 Nationalist (Guomindang) governments managed to overcome the obstacles to industrial modernization, and the devastating impacts of the military, political and commercial penetration of China by foreign colonial powers and of Japan’s attempt at conquest. In more than one hundred years of humiliation, China was forced to sign unequal treaties, cede sovereignty and territorial rights to nineteen foreign powers and pay huge financial indemnities, while its real GDP per capita declined from 2011 US$ 926 in 1800 to 439 in 1950 (Bolt and van Zanden 2020).

Continue reading China’s development path, 1949-2022

China and the purity fetish of Western Marxism

In this essay, extracted from the book The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism, Carlos Garrido takes a detailed look at China’s socialist market economy and seeks to understand why so much of the Western left insistently misunderstands it.

Carlos discusses the assorted tropes about China’s ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘totalitarianism’, as well as the obscene slanders that are thrown at it in relation to human rights in Xinjiang. However, the central focus of this essay is the Reform and Opening Up process introduced from the late 1970s, specifically addressing the claims that the existence of markets and private capital in China make it a capitalist country.

The author explains that markets have existed in human society for long before the advent of capitalism (citing Marx that “market economies have existed throughout human history and constitute one of the significant creations by human societies”) and that the character of any given market is determined by its overall socioeconomic context. Deng Xiaoping made this point with particular clarity: “We cannot say that market economy exists only under capitalism. Market economy was in its embryonic stages as early as feudalist society. We can surely develop it under socialism… As long as learning from capitalism is regarded as no more than a means to an end, it will not change the structure of socialism or bring China back to capitalism.”

Carlos writes that the reform strategy responded to a specific set of circumstances and needs, “wherein an overly centralized economy, combined with imperialist-forced isolation from the world, stifled development and necessitated reforms which would allow China to develop its productive forces, absorb the developments taking place in science and technology from the West, and ultimately, protect its revolution.” Given that China has emerged as a science and technology powerhouse; given the extraordinary increase in living standards; and given the continued legitimacy and popularity of the CPC-led government, it seems uncontroversial to say that the strategy has been highly successful.

In the context of an escalating New Cold War against China, “all progressive forces in the West should unite against the US and NATO’s anti-China rhetoric and actions.” China “stands as the main global force countering US/NATO led imperialism. Its rise signifies much more than the end of US unipolarity – it marks the end of the Columbian era of European global dominance that began in 1492.” As such it is imperative that the Western left develop its understanding of Chinese socialism and build solidarity with People’s China, rather than “parroting state-department narratives on China with radical-sounding language.”

One debateable assertion the essay makes is in regard to Hua Guofeng, who served as top leader of the CPC for two years following Mao’s death in 1976. Carlos writes that “Hua Guofeng’s two whatevers (‘We will resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave’) perpetuated the sort of book worshiping which not only sucked the living spirit out of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, but proved futile in dealing with the problems China faced.”

This is at odds with recent research presented by Isabella Weber in her book How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate. Weber writes that the two whatevers slogan was essentially a means of emphasising loyalty to the Chinese Revolution and socialist construction, and that “paying tribute to Mao in the year after his passing was not unique to Hua.” Meanwhile, “Hua redefined revolution itself as ‘liberation of productive forces’ and elevated national economic development to the highest priority” and in so doing “paved the way for the Deng-era reforms.” It was under Hua that major efforts were first made to attract foreign investment. Weber considers it “remarkable that such drastic changes occurred under a leader who has frequently been described as a relatively unremarkable Mao loyalist.”

This article first appeared on Midwestern Marx.

The stakes of the imperialist West’s New Cold War against China are as great as they can get. This means that the Western left’s role as controlled counter-hegemony and left-wing delegitimizers of socialist states – a role ideologically grounded in their purity fetish outlook – is as dangerous as it can get. In our current geopolitical climate, all progressive forces in the West should unite against the US and NATO’s anti-China rhetoric and actions. Unfortunately, what we find from large portions of this Western left is parroting of state-department narratives on China with radical-sounding language. Leading ‘socialist’ outlets in the US often echo baseless ruling class propaganda such as the ‘Uyghur genocide,’ Zero Covid authoritarianism, Belt and Road imperialism, debt trapping, and other similar fabrications.[1] Far from a concrete-dialectical study of China, in many of these spaces the claims of the ruling class are just assumed to be true, and anyone who dares to question them – and henceforth, bring the real truth to light – is labeled a puppet of Xi Jinping and the ‘CCP’ (which, like the Western bourgeoisie, is continuously labeled by these ‘socialists’ as CCP and not CPC in order to play on CCCP fears from the last cold war).[2]

Most of these tactics center on age-old claims of communist ‘authoritarianism,’ ‘totalitarianism,’ and all other such words used to equate fascism with communism and judge ‘democracy’ according to Western liberal-bourgeois standards. These assumptions and purity fetish engagements with Chinese socialist governance blind the Western Marxist from seeing China’s de facto geopolitical role as a beacon in the anti-imperialist struggle, in the Covid struggle, in the struggle for environmental sustainability, and in the struggle to develop with the darker nations which have been kept poor by centuries of colonialist and imperialist looting, debt traps, and superexploitation.[3]

The unquestioned, purity fetish grounded, and Sinophobic assumption of Chinese ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘lack of democracy’ also prevents the Western Marxist from learning how the Chinese socialist civilization has been able to creatively embed its socialist democracy in “seven integrated structures or institutional forms (体制tizhi): electoral democracy; consultative democracy; grassroots democracy; minority nationalities policy; rule of law; human rights; and leadership of the Communist Party.”[4] It has withheld them from seeing how a comprehensive study of this whole-process people’s democracy would lead any unbiased researcher to the conclusion Roland Boer has arrived at: namely, that “China’s socialist democratic system is already quite mature and superior to any other democratic system.” This is a position echoed by John Ross (and many other scholars of China), who argues that the “real situation shows that China’s framework and delivery on human rights and democracy is far superior to the West’s.”[5]

​The purity fetish Marxists of the West love to think about democracy in the abstract, and hold up as the pure ideal a notion of democracy which is only quantitatively different from the bourgeois notion. Then, this ideal notion of bourgeois democracy is measured up against the atrocity propaganda riddled caricature of socialist states which their ruling classes paint – and they unquestioningly accept. When the caricature of reality fails to measure up to the ideal, reality – which they have yet to engage with – is condemned. What the Western Marxist forgets – thanks to the purity fetish and their social chauvinism – is that in societies divided by class antagonisms we can never talk about ‘pure democracy,’ or abstract democracy in general; we must always ask – as Lenin did – “democracy for which class?”[6] The ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic freedoms’ of capitalist to exploit and oppress will always be detrimental to working and oppressed peoples. Only an all-people’s democracy (a working and popular classes’ democratic-dictatorship) can be genuinely democratic, for it is the only time ‘power’ (kratos) is actually in the hands of ‘common people’ (dēmos).

To claim – as American capitalists, their puppet politicians and lapdog media, and their controlled counter-hegemonic ‘socialists’ do – that the US is a ‘beacon of democracy,’ and China an ‘authoritarian one-party system,’ is to hold on to a delusional topsy turvy view of reality.[7] If democracy is considered from the standpoint of the capitalist’s ability to arbitrarily exert their will on society at the expense of working people and the planet, then, of course, the US is a beacon of this form of so-called ‘democracy,’ and China an ‘authoritarian’ regime that stands in the way of this ‘freedom.’ If instead, democracy is considered from the standpoint of common people’s ability to exert their power successfully over everyday affairs – that is, if democracy is understood in the people-centered form it etymologically stands for – then it would be indisputable that China is far more democratic than the US (and any other liberal-bourgeois ‘democracy’).

However, the object of this text is not to address and ‘debunk’ all the assertions made about China (or any other socialist country) from the Western left – specifically the Trotskyites and the Democratic Socialists. That would, for one, require a much more expansive project, and two, is a task that has already been done many times before. Projects like Friends of Socialist China and Qiao Collective consistently engage in the practice of debunking the propaganda on China proliferated by the Western ruling class and the ‘left.’ The objective of this text is different; it seeks not only to point out falsities in the Western left’s positions, but to understand the worldview which consistently reproduces these. I have called this worldview the purity fetish. In it we can find the ideological roots for the Western Marxist positions on China.

In the Western Marxist’s purity fetish assessment of China, it is held that because China doesn’t measure up to the pure socialist Ideal in their heads, because China does not have, as Samir Amin notes, “the communism of the twenty-third century,” – it is not actually socialism.[8] The question of democracy and authoritarianism has already been assessed in previous chapters – it is a classic of the Western Marxist condemnation toolbox. My focus in this chapter will be on those who claim China is ‘capitalist’ because it developed private ownership and markets with the period of Reform and Opening Up in 1978. This form of the purity fetish centers on their inability to understand, in a dialectical manner, how markets and private property function within China’s socialism. China, according to these Western Marxists, took the ‘capitalist road’ in 1978. As Roland Boer has shown in his article “Not Some Other -ism”—On Some Western Marxist Misrepresentations of Chinese Socialism,” there are four major ‘sub-forms’ through which this first form of condemnation occurs: 1) capitalist socialism; 2) neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics; 3) bureaucratic capitalism; and 4) state capitalism. Often, variations of these can be found within the same critic, as none are the result of a rigorous, principled analysis.

As US and Western imperialist powers ramp up the New Cold War against China, Western Marxism’s erroneous purity fetish view of Chinese socialism requires closer examination.

Continue reading China and the purity fetish of Western Marxism

The historian rewriting China’s understanding of the world

Qian Chengdan is one of China’s best-known but more elusive historians. In 2006, he was a key consultant for a major CCTV television series which analysed the rise and fall of nine world-historical empires. It was widely and correctly identified at the time as illustrating socialist China’s determination that its peaceful rise would never lead to the previous historical outcomes of colonialism, imperialism and hegemony.

Following this high-profile project, Professor Qian preferred to concentrate on his own niche interests, including publishing monographs on English history and translating The Cambridge Introduction to the History of Art.

However, he is now once again in the spotlight having led a team of scholars in a three-year project, resulting in An Outline of World History, which was published in June by Peking University Press. The publishers have described the work as “the first attempt by Chinese scholars to create a new system of knowledge for world history, and to use that system to write a history of the world.”

The book draws heavily on the work of Karl Marx, but, according to an article and abbreviated interview by Wu Haiyun carried by the popular Sixth Tone website, it has “taken pains to distance the work from that of earlier Soviet scholars, whom he believes were overly dogmatic and overlooked key aspects of Marx’s ideas.”

In the interview, Professor Qian says that:

“The Soviet system boils down to two elements: the ‘five modes’ and class struggle. The importance of class struggle to Marxism is well known, but many Chinese also learn about the five modes of production, which refer to the progression of human society from primitive communism to slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and ultimately a future communist society.

“The problem with the Soviet system was its absolutism. It rejected the idea of cultural diversity and posited that all regions and countries worldwide underwent the same process. This does not align with historical reality.”

His interviewer responded: “What you described as the two key points of the Soviet system are fundamental concepts that every Chinese person learns from an early age. Isn’t that standard Marxism? How exactly does your approach differ from the Soviet one?”

This drew the following response:

“In his book The German Ideology, Karl Marx provided a clear description of the formation of world history. He wrote, ‘the more the original isolation of the separate nationalities is destroyed by the developed mode of production and intercourse and the division of labour between various nations naturally brought forth by these, the more history becomes world history.’

“This is Marx’s own understanding of the formation of world history. Regrettably, his words were largely ignored by Soviet historians…This implies that human society is not only characterised by the progression from lower to higher stages but also by the transition from fragmentation to unity. From this perspective, we can see the superiority of Marx’s theory of world history… We aim to restore history to its authentic form, preserving its most genuine characteristics. In my view, Marx’s theory of ‘world history’ comes closest to grasping the essence of history. Sadly, his theory has long been overlooked.”

One of the things that is not explored in the interview is that Professor Qian’s rejection of simplistic and dogmatic interpretations of historical materialism, something by no means confined to many Soviet Marxists, but also to be found, for example, in many schools and adherents of Western Marxism, is essential to correctly understanding and appreciating the fact that a number of countries have embarked on the road of socialism without first going through the phase of capitalist development.

Concluding on a note of well-placed optimism, Professor Qian notes that:

“From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the Western world, bolstered by capital and war, essentially gained control over the entire globe, leaving almost no room for the survival of non-Western civilisations. This was a comprehensive ‘horizontal’ shift. However, from that point onward, history has begun to reverse course, and the world today is markedly different from a century ago. Various regions are pursuing their unique development paths, and differences are becoming increasingly pronounced and apparent.”

We reprint the article and interview from Sixth Tone below.

Qian Chengdan might be the Platonic ideal of an ivory tower academic. The director of both Peking University’s Center for World History Research and its Institute of Area Studies, Qian occupies a prestigious perch at one of China’s top universities, but unlike many of his peers, he seems to have little interest in fame or attention: He rarely participates in public forums or sits for interviews, and he avoids all social media — even WeChat.

On the rare occasion Qian does descend from the ivory tower, however, he almost always leaves a mark. In 2006, Qian served as a key consultant on the acclaimed CCTV-produced documentary series “The Rise of the Great Powers,” which told the story of nine world-historical empires, from Portugal and Spain to Japan and the United States. It was one of the first extended introductions to world history aired on Chinese television — and a significant departure from past programming focused on China’s own history.

After the series aired, Qian quietly returned to academic life, eventually publishing a number of well-received monographs on world and English history while pursuing his passion project: translating “The Cambridge Introduction to the History of Art” in its entirety.

Continue reading The historian rewriting China’s understanding of the world

Honouring Isabel Crook and carrying forward China-Canada friendship

The following op-ed, written by H.E. Cong Peiwu, Chinese Ambassador to Canada, pays tribute to Isabel Crook – the Canadian communist and lifelong friend of China who passed away in Beijing on 20 August 2023.

As well as summarising Isabel’s outstanding record in telling the truth about China and in developing foreign language teaching, Ambassador Cong describes how her life was “a vivid example of carrying forward China-Canada friendship.” In this context, the author references Dr Norman Bethune, the Canadian communist and brilliant doctor who worked on the front lines in China’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression, and about whom Mao Zedong wrote that “every Chinese communist must learn” from his spirit of internationalism.

Ambassador Cong concludes with a message to Canadians, but his words will resonate with people throughout the West at a time when imperialist governments and media are ramping up anti-China hostilities and McCarthyite repression:

I encourage all of you to experience China firsthand, and you will understand why many Canadians like Crook have forged such deep bonds with China and the Chinese people. I’m also confident that there will be more friendly personages like Isabel Crook and Norman Bethune, who will continue to nurture and carry forward China-Canada friendship.

This tribute was first published in The Canada Files.

The passing of Isabel Crook in Beijing at the age of 108, on August 20, has left us all saddened. Just like many of you, I have extended my condolences.

Crook’s life was a true reflection of people-to-people friendship between our two countries. Born in Chengdu, China, in 1915 to Canadian parents, she spent most of her life in China, and witnessed the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Crook once said, “I’m truly thankful to my parents for bringing me into this world in China.” Although she has passed away, her deeds and contributions continue to exert profound influence.

 Through her works, she provided Westerners with more insights into the real China. Most importantly, she demystified China for Westerners during her time, helping them recognize the significance of engaging with China and its people.

Isabel Crook witnessed China’s development and transformation throughout her lifetime. She cared about rural development in China, devoted herself to education, and nurtured numerous talents.

Having spent over 90 years in China, she witnessed monumental changes in Chinese society. She saw, experienced and participated in China’s tremendous transformation from standing upright to becoming prosperous and growing in strength. “I’m very fortunate to be an observer to this great era. I believe my beloved China is getting better and better,” Crook expressed. In 2019, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to China’s education and friendly exchanges with the world, the Chinese government awarded her the Friendship Medal of China, the country’s highest honor bestowed upon foreign nationals.

Crook’s entire life was a vivid example of carrying forward China-Canada friendship. She dedicated her glorious years to China, blazing a trail in English teaching in New China and nurturing countless foreign language talents. “We see the fruits of our work, batches of graduates, contribute their strength to building New China and the new world. We are very proud of them,” she remarked.

Friendship transcends borders, and she never walked alone. Henry Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon, made the ultimate sacrifice in China when helping the Chinese people resist Japanese aggressors during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. Besides, there are also many other Canadian recipients of the Chinese Government Friendship Award who have actively contributed to China-Canada friendship.

As an old Chinese saying goes, “Peaches and plums do not talk, yet a path is formed beneath them.” Beginning as a seed of hope, her spirit has grown into a towering tree. I encourage all of you to experience China firsthand, and you will understand why many Canadians like Crook have forged such deep bonds with China and the Chinese people. I’m also confident that there will be more friendly personages like Isabel Crook and Norman Bethune, who will continue to nurture and carry forward China-Canada friendship.