Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein: Socialism is alive in China

This article by Sergio Rodriguez Gelfestein, former director of international relations in Venezuela’s presidential office and former ambassador to Nicaragua, discusses the recent 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, situating it within the broader process of socialist construction in both China and the world.

The author connects Socialism with Chinese Characteristics to the overall Marxist tradition stretching back to the first works of scientific socialism of the 1840s. Although the global socialist movement suffered a terrible blow with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the European people’s democracies, the CPC has now “shouldered the responsibility and has the confidence and ability to contribute to the development of scientific socialism.”

As such, the emerging US-led New Cold War is not simply a matter of economic competition, or even “inter-imperialist rivalry” as some in the Western left believe; rather it occurs “within a framework of systemic confrontation between development models that emerge from antagonistic ideological proposals.”

The English translation of this article was published by Workers World.

Many important issues were discussed at the recently concluded 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Chinese and foreign analysts have written extensively on the subject. As almost always when giving an opinion about China, the analyses mostly deal with state issues that — in this case — were discussed at the event.

But if I were asked what was the highlight of this event, I would have no hesitation in affirming that the great event of the Chinese Communist Party had a keen orientation toward the internal strengthening of the organization, so that it can play its role as leader of the Chinese society on its way to socialism.

CPC part of a long process

In this context, it seems necessary to highlight the strong ideological content of the debates in this Congress. It continued discussions held in the past and in previous similar events, and has presented a solid vindication of Marxism-Leninism as part of the support that has allowed the Communist Party of China “to comprehensively dominate the great struggle, the great work, the great cause and the great dream” . . . that “has culminated in the historic task of completing the comprehensive construction of a society modestly well-off and the consequent fulfillment of the objective of struggle established for the first centenary (year 2021) and has undertaken the new expedition of the comprehensive construction of a modern socialist country toward the objective of struggle set for the second.” (2049)

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Ideological work in the new era of socialism in China

We are pleased to publish this important and well-researched article by Gabriel Martinez on ideological work and struggle in China since the beginning of ‘reform and opening up’ at the end of the 1970s. Gabriel is a postgraduate student from Brazil, currently finishing his studies in Marxist Philosophy at Beijing Normal University. He has lived in China for the last five years.

He notes that the important changes in the country’s economic sphere have been accompanied by a series of ideological changes, with both positive and negative aspects and bringing new challenges for the development of socialism in China. Noting the emergence of a trend of bourgeois liberalization, the author stresses that this has always been opposed by successive generations of Chinese leaders. “However, while recognizing that the Party has always called attention to the need to strengthen ideological work, one cannot fail to recognize that Xi Jinping’s coming to power represents a turning point in the Communist Party of China’s political line… Xi Jinping has been paying close attention to this problem, aiming to restore and consolidate the authority and leading role occupied by Marxism as the theoretical basis guiding socialist construction and modernization in China.”

Analyzing the effects of the existence of capitalist relations of production in the primary stage of socialism on the ideological sphere, Gabriel notes that “it is necessary, therefore, to differentiate between what are the positive effects that capitalist private property can create for the development of the productive forces, from what is the ideology it inevitably produces, and the negative effects generated by capitalist relations of production in the most varied domains of social life.”

A great deal of other important material is covered in the article, which we consider well worth careful study and discussion. It was previously published in Chinese on the website of Kunlunce, a Chinese think tank that publishes articles by Marxist professors and researchers, and in Portuguese on the website Resistencia, which is associated with the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB).

The Reform and Opening policy, initiated by the Communist Party of China in 1978, has produced important transformations in the economic sphere of the country. The transformation in the structure of property, little by little, caused the basic structure of property relations in the country to change to a system where the state public economy was considered its backbone, but coexisting with multiple forms of property, which exist and develop together (including domestic and foreign private property). These transformations were accompanied by a series of ideological changes, changes that have an influence on the most varied sectors of social life. This influence can be seen in the way of life of the population, in the economy, in culture, in the arts, and also in politics. Chinese society, from an ideological point of view, has become more “diversified”, and such diversification, obviously, not only has positive aspects, but also produces negative consequences and brings new challenges for the development of socialism in China. In this article I will try to outline some aspects of the formulations of the Communist Party of China on ideological work and how this work is acquiring a new role in China led by Xi Jinping.

The struggle against bourgeois liberalization in the new era of socialism

After the beginning of the reforms, an ideological trend emerged in China called “bourgeois liberalization. The phenomenon of bourgeois liberalization, to this day, exerts a pernicious influence on China’s development process and the building of a socialist culture. How does the Communist Party define this liberalization? According to Deng Xiaoping:

Since the fall of the Gang of Four an ideological trend that we call bourgeois liberalization has emerged. Its exponents idolize the “democracy” and “freedom” of Western capitalist countries and reject socialism. This cannot be tolerated. China must modernize, but she must not promote liberalization or take the capitalist path, as Western countries have done. [1]

Deng Xiaoping’s quotation clearly shows us that, from the very beginning, the problem of bourgeois liberalization has always been the object of attention by the leaders of the Communist Party of China. Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, etc., dealt with this problem several times. However, it is not wrong to say that over the years, far from being solved, it still exists and exerts considerable influence. Faced with the new political line approved after the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP held in 1978, which established a break with the previous line of “taking class struggle as the main link,” placing economic construction and socialist modernization at the center of the Party’s activity, a very active political tendency arose, which defended the idea that besides reforms in the economic sphere, it was also necessary to carry out reforms of a political nature, calling for more “democracy” and “freedom. This ideological current became quite politically active, especially from the 1980s onwards, seeking to divert the Reform and Opening from its original path and direction of perfecting the socialist system, to the path of restoring capitalism and the bourgeois-type political system, as happened in the Soviet Union.

At first, especially among intellectual circles, an anti-Mao Zedong wave swept the country, leading to an open contestation of the resolutions presented by the CCP in its historic document On Some Problems in the History of Our Party from the Founding of the PRC to the Present Day in 1981. The document, while stating that Mao Zedong made some mistakes at the end of his life, is quite clear in its recognition and exaltation of the Chinese leader’s historical role in the history of Party and Republic building. The document clearly states that Mao Zedong’s successes far outweigh his mistakes. Says the resolution:

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Listening to our CPC comrades on the nature of China’s socialist path

We are very pleased to republish this instructive article by Professor Roland Boer, which was first carried by the Australian Marxist Review (AMR), journal of the Communist Party of Australia. 

The article considers three main points, namely “what our comrades in the Communist Party of China say about their own system; what insights the Marxist-Leninist method provides; and how Chinese communists see the economic development of China from 1949 through to today,” and is based not least on the author’s last 12 years of engagement with China, living there for up to six months of the year and learning the language. 

Roland locates the background to how the Chinese communists approach, assess and analyse issues arising in their development within the basic framework of Marxism-Leninism, including that the seizure of power by the proletariat is not the end, but rather the beginning of a long and complex struggle to actually build a socialist society. He further analyses the three main stages in the development of New China, from 1949-1978, 1978-2012 and 2012-, noting the achievements scored in each, the problems that arose, and how they were addressed, particularly in the subsequent stage. 

In his conclusion he notes: “I suggest that it is important to listen to what our CPC comrades think about their own system, based upon immense amounts of research on the concrete reality in China, and not let bourgeois criticisms and Western imperialist assumptions set the agenda.” We agree!

This article formed part of a special May 2022 edition of AMR, devoted to China, and containing many interesting articles. It may be read in full here

I would like to make a small contribution to a topic of discussion and debate in a number of Communist parties in the world today, including the CPA. It concerns the nature of socialism in China, or what is also known as Socialism with Chinese Characteristics – better translated as ‘socialism in light of China’s conditions’. My contribution arises from more than a dozen years of experience in China. I would like to do so in three main parts: what our comrades in the Communist Party of China say about their own system; what insights the Marxist-Leninist method provides; and how Chinese communists see the economic development of China from 1949 through to today. The assumption in what follows is that inner-party discussions such as this are undertaken in a comradely manner. I hope that what is provided here can aid our discussion in some ways.

Listening to Our CPC Comrades

The CPC is a fraternal party with the CPA, so it would be helpful to listen carefully to what our CPC comrades say about the nature of their system. There are a number of ways we can do so. As for me, I prefer engaging in person-to-person discussion with members of the CPC. This has meant that over the last 12 years of my engagement with China (living and working there for up to 6 months a years), I have learnt the language and researched in depth Chinese Marxism and its socio-economic system. I have spoken with CPC cadres at many levels of the party, in the city and in the countryside, at major meetings and at local party branches. We have discussed many, many topics concerning the Marxist method and the difficult tasks of constructing socialism.

Another approach is to keep up with the many developments via CPC sources. Given the size of the party and its close involvement at all levels of Chinese society, there are very many of these sources. The following comprise only a small sample: the Central Committee journal Qiushi,[1] which comes out twice a month (www.qstheory.cn/) – note that English translations lag by a few months (http://en.qstheory.cn/) and not all of the articles on the Chinese site are translated into English; Red Flag (www.qstheory.cn/dukan/hqwg/2021-07/09/c_1127638960.htm);CPC news (http://cpc.people.com.cn/); the party history site (http://dangshi.people.cn/); the party’s newspaper, ‘Renmin Ribao’ (http://www.people.com.cn/), and so on. If you need to use an online translator, it would better to use more reliable ones, such as fanyi.youdao.com or fanyi.baidu.com (google translate is not reliable). Of course, there are even more local party sites and social media apps for local branch members. After all, the CPC has 92 million members.

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What is “new” about the new path of Chinese-style modernisation?

We are pleased to publish this paper by Hong Xiaonan, Dean of the School of Marxism at China’s Dalian University of Technology (DUT), part of our occasional series of selected presentations from the Cloud International Workshop on ‘New forms of human civilization from a world perspective’, held by the School, October 29-31, 2021.

In his paper, Professor Hong argues that Chinese-style modernization is new in five aspects. It is mega-scale; is one where the entire population enjoys common prosperity; where material and spiritual civilization are in harmony; where humanity and nature co-exist in harmony; and that follows the path of peaceful development. In a few words, it is socialist modernization and modernization for developing countries.

Professor Hong outlines the stages of modernization theory, through the paradigm of “America First”, the emergence of capitalist and socialist camps headed respectively by the United States and the Soviet Union, the wave of decolonization and national liberation movements, through to the emergence of Chinese-style modernization.

The author notes that General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that China’s modernization means that more Chinese people than the population of all developed countries combined would enter the ranks of modernization. By way of comparison, the pre-18th century rise of the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, with a combined population of about one million, was at best equivalent to the rise of a county in China today.

He compares China’s modernization, aimed at “the all-round development of human beings”, to the western model, which is “entirely oriented towards the logic of capital, with the market economy as the only driving mechanism. This inevitably leads to an ever-greater division between rich and poor… Western capitalist modernization was constructed on the foundation of primitive accumulation, in terms of blood-soaked colonial plunder external to capitalist countries and ruthless exploitation of the people within these countries. As Marx observed… ‘capital comes [into the world] dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.’… The British ‘Enclosure Movement,’ the United States’ ‘Westward Movement,’ and the criminal slave trade are all examples of the ‘original sin’ of Western capitalist modernization.”

In contrast, Professor Hong echoes Xi Jinping’s words in his report to the 19th Party Congress, in pointing out that China’s modernization, “offers a completely new option for those countries and peoples in the world that want to accelerate development while maintaining their independence.”

Once again, we are grateful to the DUT translation team and to Professor Roland Boer for their work to make this important paper available in English.

Abstract: The new path of Chinese-style modernisation is “new” in that it is different from the Western path of modernisation. The “new” characteristic has five aspects: 1) modernisation on a mega-scale; 2) modernisation in which the entire population enjoys common prosperity; 3) modernisation in which material and spiritual civilisation are in harmony; 4) modernisation in which humanity and nature coexist in harmony; 5) and modernisation that follows the path of peaceful development. Chinese-style modernisation is socialist modernisation, with unique characteristics that are different from capitalist modernisation. Chinese-style modernisation has changed the long-standing dominance of the model of Western modernisation and the power of its discourse monopoly. It has broken the stereotype and “beautiful myth” that “globalisation = Westernisation,” that “westernisation = modernisation,” and that “modernisation = marketisation.” It has overcome the inherent and innate defects of capitalist modernisation, and provided a completely new option for modernisation, thereby showing a promising prospect for the modernisation of human society. Chinese-style modernisation is a modernisation for developing countries, opening up a completely new path towards modernisation for late-developing countries.

Keywords: New path of Chinese-style modernisation; Western modernisation; new forms of human civilisation.


The new path of Chinese-style modernisation is “new” in that it is different from the Western path of modernisation

Modernisation as a world historical process reflects the tremendous changes that human society has undergone from traditional agricultural societies to modern industrial societies. This process began in Western Europe, expanded across North America and the rest of Europe, and spread to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The study of the theory of modernisation emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, with the main academic fronts in the United States, West Germany, Japan, and other countries. The object of this research concerned the newly independent post-war countries, that is, the developing countries of the Third World. The task was to examine the new paths, strategies, and models for the development of these new countries. Generally speaking, Western research on modernisation began as a sub-discipline, mainly using theories and methods from different Western disciplines such as sociology, economics, political science, and psychology to construct theoretical frameworks so as to analyse and compare the modernisation of non-Western developing countries and to conduct field research.

After the Second World War, the new scientific and technological revolution in the Western capitalist world brought about rapid development of the productive forces and rapid growth of the capitalist economy, which not only quickly healed the wounds of war in the capitalist world, but also strengthened the confidence in Western civilisation, which had for a time been lost as a result of the economic crisis and war. In particular, through the Second World War, the United States leapt ahead to become the centre and leader of the Western capitalist world. Many Western scholars, including some in the United States, were filled with a sense of novelty and admiration for the United States, creating the illusion of “America first” and arguing theoretically for the superiority and rationality of the Western capitalist system. In terms of this background, research on the emergence of modern society began to flourish in a number of universities in the United States, and from this research the so-called “modernisation theory” – or to be precise, “Western modernisation theory” – gradually took shape.

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Xi Jinping: Hold high the great banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and strive in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects

We are pleased to reproduce below the full text of the report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, given by General Secretary Xi Jinping on 16 October 2022. At nearly 25,000 words, it is a long document but deserves careful reading, as it sets out in detail the CPC’s vision for the coming period. You can also read a summary, written by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Keith Bennett.

The English translation of the report was originally published in Xinhua.

Comrades,

On behalf of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), I will now deliver a report to the 20th National Congress.

The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is a meeting of great importance. It takes place at a critical time as the entire Party and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups embark on a new journey to build China into a modern socialist country in all respects and advance toward the Second Centenary Goal.

The theme of this Congress is holding high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, fully implementing the Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, carrying forward the great founding spirit of the Party, staying confident and building strength, upholding fundamental principles and breaking new ground, forging ahead with enterprise and fortitude, and striving in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects and advance the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts.

Since its founding a century ago, the Communist Party of China has taken a remarkable journey. Our Party has dedicated itself to achieving lasting greatness for the Chinese nation and committed itself to the noble cause of peace and development for humanity. Our responsibility is unmatched in importance, and our mission is glorious beyond compare. It is imperative that all of us in the Party never forget our original aspiration and founding mission, that we always stay modest, prudent, and hard-working, and that we have the courage and ability to carry on our fight. We must remain confident in our history, exhibit greater historical initiative, and write an even more magnificent chapter for socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

I. The Work of the Past Five Years and
the Great Changes in the First Decade of the New Era

The five years since the 19th National Congress have been truly momentous and extraordinary. The Party Central Committee has pursued a strategy of national rejuvenation amid global changes of a magnitude not seen in a century. It has convened seven plenary sessions, at which it adopted decisions and resolutions on major issues such as revising China’s Constitution, deepening reform of Party and state institutions, upholding and improving the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and modernizing China’s system and capacity for governance, formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives through the Year 2035, and conducting a thorough review of the Party’s major achievements and historical experience over the past century. At these sessions, major strategic plans were also made for advancing the cause of the Party and the country. The Central Committee has brought together the entire Party, the military, and the Chinese people and led them in effectively responding to grave, intricate international developments and a series of immense risks and challenges. With great effort and determination, we have steadily advanced socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

Continue reading Xi Jinping: Hold high the great banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and strive in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects

Interview with Gennady Zyuganov on Chinese socialism

The recently concluded 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) attracted the close attention of communist and progressive forces around the world.

In that regard, shortly before the opening of the Congress, Comrade Gennady Zyuganov, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), gave an extensive interview to the leading Chinese newspaper, Guangming Ribao.

Acclaiming the CPC’s century of struggle, the Russian communist leader noted that: “Over the past hundred years the CPC dramatically changed the destiny of the Chinese people. It liberated them from the shackles of semi-colonial dependence, national humiliation and economic enslavement and made the people masters of their land and their destiny. Under the leadership of the CPC the working people of China have driven out foreign invaders, established and consolidated their power and built a middle-income society.”

Speaking of his Chinese counterpart, Zyuganov said: “Xi Jinping is flesh of the flesh of the great Chinese people.” He further noted that the Chinese leader’s father, Comrade Xi Zhongxun, is “a representative of the first generation of Chinese revolutionaries. He was among the founders and leaders of the revolutionary base in the liberated regions of the Shanxi and Gansu provinces and organizers of political work in the People’s Liberation Army of China.”

Noting that the ideas contained in Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era are “universal in character,” and that they “constitute a major innovative contribution to the development of the Marxist theory”, Zyuganov continued: “Writing about socialist society in 1890, Friedrich Engels pointed out that it is not ‘something given once and for all.’ And the great thinker stressed: ‘Like any other social system it should be seen as subject to constant changes and transformations’ … Marx, Engels and Lenin have repeatedly stressed that the characteristics of the socialist social and economic system manifest themselves in the practice of socialist construction in each individual country. Life has vindicated these theoretical premises: a socio-economic system cannot be created according to a single template. Historical experience shows that transition to socialism calls for a combination of the fundamental ideas of Marxism-Leninism and the real state of affairs.”

After speaking about the present situation regarding relations between Russia and China, and such related topics as the conflict in Ukraine, the heightened imperialist hostility and threats to both Russia and China, and the related moves to rehabilitate and revive fascism and militarism and reverse the correct verdicts passed in 1945, Comrade Zyuganov concludes:

“The CPRF is preparing to mark the centenary of the formation of the USSR. Moving along the path of building socialism our country has achieved great successes which have an intransient significance for the whole human race. In 1917 Russia was the first to breach the international front of imperialism and embark on the building of a new society. Following this path under the leadership of the Communist Party the Soviet people have created the most advanced economy for that time, raised living standards, developed science and culture, vanquished fascism and conquered outer space. In the 21st century the relay of victories and accomplishments has been confidently taken from the USSR by socialist China…

“It is only by working persistently to strengthen the unity of the Russian and Chinese people and build up our joint efforts in the struggle against the West’s neo-colonial aspirations that we can uphold the sovereignty of our countries. As Stalin would have said in a similar situation, we will either do it quickly, or we will be crushed.”

We are pleased to republish the full text of this important interview. It was originally published in English on the website of the CPRF.

Speaking at the International Forum of the CPC and Marxist Parties organized by the Communist Party of China you noted that the centenary of the CPC which was marked a year ago was an outstanding milestone in the history of the Chinese people which had great resonance in many countries. How do you assess the successes achieved by the Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party of China during the 101 years of revolutionary development?

During its more than a century-long existence the Communist Party of China has traversed a glorious path of creative endeavor. Following its initial goal and fulfilling its mission of social restructuring it managed to unite the popular masses and launch the struggle for a great resurgence of the country on the basis of the values of peace, labor, justice, humanism and progress. In this struggle it has achieved outstanding historic results. Over the past hundred years the CPC dramatically changed the destiny of the Chinese people. It liberated them from the shackles of semi-colonial dependence, national humiliation and economic enslavement and made the people masters of their land and their destiny. Under the leadership of the CPC the working people of China have driven out foreign invaders, established and consolidated their power and built a middle-income society. Today the Chinese look to the future with complete confidence and are making the history of their great Motherland in the new era. Within a historically brief space of time a massive leap has been made toward creating a high-tech industry and dramatically raising people’s living standards. Along with dynamic economic growth long-term stability of the Chinese society has been ensured. This is extremely important for the country as a whole and for each concrete individual. Socialist China is an indisputable leader on many key parameters.

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Summary of Xi Jinping’s report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC

The following article by Friends of Socialist China co-editor Keith Bennett provides a brief summary of Xi Jinping’s highly significant and substantial report given at the opening of the CPC’s 20th National Congress on 16 October 2022.

As soon as the official English translation of the report is available, we will republish it on this site.

Entitled Hold High the Great Banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive in Unity to Build a Modern Socialist Country in All Respects, Comrade Xi Jinping’s report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is a political document of great significance, summing up the work of a 96-million strong party over the last period and outlining its course ahead.

Comrade Xi begins by noting that the congress, “takes place at a critical time as the entire Party and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups embark on a new journey to build China into a modern socialist country in all respects and advance toward the Second Centenary Goal”, which is that of building a fully modernized socialist country. In this course, it is imperative that the party “never forget our original aspiration and founding mission”, and “always stay modest, prudent, and hard-working.”

Calling the five years since the last congress, “truly momentous and extraordinary”, he noted that the Party had led the Chinese people in “effectively responding to grave, intricate international developments and a series of immense risks and challenges.” It had promoted high-quality development, whole-process people’s democracy, improved public well-being as a matter of priority, put the people and their lives above all else, and launched an all-out people’s war to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Moreover, it had dealt with “drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade, and exert maximum pressure on China”, by showing a “fighting spirit” and a “firm determination to never yield to coercive power.”

Over the last five years, the party had led the people “in solving a great number of problems that had long gone unsolved, securing many accomplishments that hold major future significance, and achieving impressive advances in the cause of the Party and the country.”

Continue reading Summary of Xi Jinping’s report to the 20th National Congress of the CPC

Why is the great project of Ecological Civilization specific to China?

The following article, reprinted from MR (Monthly Review) Online – and also published by the Poyang Lake Journal in China – is an extensive interview by three Chinese scholars with Professor John Bellamy Foster on the specificity of the ecological civilization project to China. Bellamy Foster is a significant and original Marxist theoretician and edits the long-established independent socialist journal Monthly Review. Much of his work in recent years has been devoted to exploring the synergy between ecology and Marxism.

The interviewers note that he opposes and refutes the severing of connections between Chinese ecological tradition and Marxism, in a way that would place the latter in opposition to Chinese traditional culture. Bellamy Foster contends that synergizing the various factors involved is a daunting task, “but I would immediately dispel the notion that… [it is] insurmountable by pointing to one of the foremost Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century: Joseph Needham.”

Bellamy Foster’s citing of Needham in this context is significant. The main compiler of the monumental, multi-volume series, Science and Civilization in China, in its obituary, the Independent newspaper described him as “possibly the greatest scholar since Erasmus.” Yet his contributions to Marxism remain largely overlooked by the left. According to Bellamy Foster, “For Needham, it was the dialectical vision of Karl Marx that was most crucial in creating a renewed ecological vision in the present day. But it was also necessary to draw on… traditional Chinese thought,” including Daoism, a method that Bellamy Foster also employs.

Developing his argument that it is specifically China’s socialist orientation that enables the country to be today’s pioneer in the development of an ecological civilization, Bellamy Foster notes:

“As Needham insisted, there are deep ecological roots in Chinese culture. Nevertheless, it is socialism with Chinese characteristics and ecological Marxism that have put the concept of ecological civilization on the agenda today in China in a way that is entirely absent in the capitalist world system itself… [President] Xi spoke of ‘socialist eco-civilization,’ involving ‘a new model of modernization with humans developing in harmony… [with] nature.’ Here he was acknowledging that there can be no true ‘global endeavor for ecological civilization’ unless it is at the same time a movement toward socialism.”

In contrast, Bellamy Foster notes that: “Although it is true that the notion of a Green New Deal has been raised by progressives in the West, that conception is usually seen as simply a Green Keynesianism or green corporatism… Moreover, while China has made moves to implement its radical conception of ecological civilization, which is built into state planning and regulation, the notion of a Green New Deal has taken concrete form nowhere in the West. It is merely a slogan at this point without any real political backing within the system. It was talked about by progressive forces and then rejected by the powers that be.”

In the course of the interview, Bellamy Foster develops his thinking on the process of urbanization and the evolving rural/urban balance in China, in the course of which he makes the important point that: “One of the extraordinary results of the Chinese Revolution that still persists today, but is not commonly understood in the West, is that despite the breakup of collective farms and the earlier communal structure, the land in China still is collectively owned by the rural population. In this sense, de-collectivization did not extend to full privatization. Agriculture is still to a considerable extent organized by village communities.”

Questioned on his assertion that “ecological communism cannot be truly realized if there is no environmental proletariat, Bellamy Foster takes issue with the historic influence of economism in socialist thought, explaining that: “The concept of the proletariat was economistically reduced to the industrial proletariat or industrial working class and commonly restricted to the urban population. Yet Marx and Engels themselves had a much wider conception of the proletariat, not restricted to, say, the role of factory workers. Nor did they see material conditions simply in narrow economic terms, but rather as encompassing the larger environment of the workers.”

This, he asserts, can be most clearly seen in Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England, and continues: “Contrary to myth, Marx and Engels were not anti-peasant but wrote a great deal supporting peasant class struggles. Moreover, the great socialist revolutions in Russia, China, and elsewhere, involved proletarian-peasant alliances… The ‘wretched of the earth’ today are struggling over material conditions that are as much environmental as economic, with changing environmental conditions an indirect product of world capital accumulation.”

All in all, this is a very serious and thought-provoking interview that merits careful reading.

Guo Jianren: Professor Foster, thank you for doing this interview. This is my first interview with you and, as far as I know, the first interview you have completed with an ecological Marxism scholar from mainland China. The honor is mine, especially as I have a fairly long acquaintance with your great works. Back in 2004, in my doctoral dissertation, I introduced your works on ecological Marxism in a systematic way to the Chinese Marxist academic readers. In the following decades, we have studied your ecological Marxism closely, and your important contributions have been recognized, examined, and disseminated further. Thank you again for giving this lecture on “Ecological Civilization and Ecological Revolution: An Ecological Marxist Perspective” at the invitation of the Sunshine Valley Cobb Ecological Institute. This interview will mainly follow the key points of your speech.

Your lecture begins with the dialectical connections among ecological civilization, ecological Marxism, and ecological revolution, viewed from both historical and practical perspectives. You demonstrate the importance of ecological socialism or ecological Marxism in the conception of ecological civilization, and point out that in non-socialist countries, people can only talk about ecological civilization in an abstract and empty way. You oppose and refute the cultural theorist Jeremy Lent’s interpretation of the conception of Chinese ecological civilization, which separates the connections between Chinese ecological civilization, socialism, and the Marxist ideological tradition, placing Chinese traditional culture in opposition to Marxism. This makes Lent’s analysis seriously inconsistent with the historical process and practical reality of China’s ecological civilization’s conceptional development. In contrast, your analysis leads to an issue that we are very concerned about. In relation to your ecological-materialism method developed on the basis of historical materialism and dialectical materialism, and in accordance with the theoretical research into ecological Marxism and Chinese ecological civilization, the question arises: How is this connected to ideological and cultural elements other than Marxism, such as achievements in natural science, incorporation of Chinese traditional cultural concepts, or the role of Whiteheadian organic philosophy? This is a critical issue for studies of ecological Marxism in China right now, and one in which there is an urgent need for theoretical breakthroughs. Under the guidance of President Xi Jinping’s thoughts on ecological civilization in China, the practice of eco-civilization is making progress day by day. China’s practice of rapid renewal in this area requires continuous progress in theoretical updating, so that the development of practice and theory are advanced at an accelerating synergetic pace.

Continue reading Why is the great project of Ecological Civilization specific to China?

Cheng Enfu: The new pattern of international economy and politics is conducive to the development of world socialism

The International Manifesto Group (IMG), a discussion group of academics and activists in which Friends of Socialist China participates, held an online symposium on Sunday October 16 to mark one year since the launch of its manifesto, Through Pluripolarity to Socialism.

Joining an impressive line-up of speakers, Professor Cheng Enfu, a leading academician at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and President of the World Association of Political Economy (WAPE), lauded the Manifesto for its “clear theme, profound ideas and magnificent momentum” in appraising the past, present and future of socialism.

According to Professor Cheng, the response to Covid and the Ukraine conflict have both served to expose imperialism and led more people in the world to support socialism. 

Faced with imperialist aggression, the close relationship between China and Russia objectively constitutes the core of the world progressive forces today, he argues.

According to Professor Cheng, the Soviet Union did not collapse due to any failure of socialism, but rather to the treachery of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin leading groups combined with the long imperialist encirclement.

We are pleased to publish Professor Cheng’s speech below.

In September 2021, I spoke at the launch meeting of the Manifesto: Through Pluripolarity to Socialism. The Manifesto has a clear theme, profound ideas, magnificent momentum, and clearly articulated the history of world socialism, its present status quo and future. The international situation over the past year has continued to confirm the fundamental point of the Manifesto. In the following I would like to share with you a few points of mine on the development of socialism in the world, for the sake of discussion.

First, the severe situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in the West has led more people around the world to realize the advantages of the socialist system and its way of governance. So far Russia has exposed dozens of US biological labs in Ukraine, scientists from various countries have revealed that the coronavirus originated in the United States, and the spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry has also raised questions about whether the coronavirus originated in the United States. The United States has evaded all these questions. It is now the third year of the pandemic, and no one knows how long it is going to last. As the Manifesto rightly says, “As ramshackle capitalisms responded to the pandemic inevitably shambolically, matters nosedived. Whether they denied it or falsely pitted lives against livelihoods—the capitalist class’s euphemism for profits—their response to the pandemic amounted to the social murder of millions and induced economic crises of historic proportions.”

More and more people around the world are realizing that the developed capitalist countries in the West are responsible for the pandemic and the high mortality rate. The class position and prejudice of Francis Fukuyama, Joseph Nye, etc. lead them to defend the Western system, claiming that the difference between governments of Western countries such as the US and that of China is only the capacity of governance. Such defense is futile. In contrast to the situation in the West, socialist countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea follow the human rights principle that prioritizes people’s life and health and have achieved the dual goal of epidemic prevention and control and economic development.

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As Western capitalism faces repeated crises, socialist China achieves spectacular success

We are pleased to reproduce this article by Professor Radhika Desai, which originally appeared in Global Times.

Radhika notes that, “After the disintegration of the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, under leadership of the CPC, not only survived, but succeeded spectacularly…(but) none of this was inevitable.”

The secret behind the success of socialism in China and the failure of capitalism, particularly the variety practiced in the United States and Britain, she argues, is best understood by returning to the teachings of Marx.

A further very important factor identified by Radhika is that “the Chinese revolution, even more than the Russian revolution, was at once socialist and anti-imperialist.” Her conclusion is that, “while China does not aim to be a model for other nations, its experience and policies do serve as a worthy example. Other countries can best benefit from their relations with socialist China if they also adapt China’s experience to their aspirations and circumstances.” This resonates with President Xi Jinping’s important observation that: “It [socialism with Chinese characteristics] offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.”

After the disintegration of the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, under leadership of the CPC, not only survived, but succeeded spectacularly. The party-state holding overall control of the economy composed of a pragmatic mix of state and private enterprise has managed to harness market forces to build socialism and brought a very poor society to the threshold of moderate prosperity. It has scored many technological achievements along the way. 

None of this was inevitable. All of it required leadership, who has been capable of well-judged decisions, political skill and wisdom, the ability to learn from mistakes, to listen to the people and, above all, to stand up to powerful capitalism and imperialism. It also required a long-standing commitment to China’s original revolutionary principles. 

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Xi Jinping: Consistently develop and uphold Socialism with Chinese characteristics

With the Twentieth National Congress of the Communist Party of China scheduled to open on October 16, the party’s leading theoretical journal, Qiushi, has recently published an extract from an extremely important speech made by General Secretary Xi Jinping on January 5, 2018, at a seminar for new central committee members and other leading cadres. 

Echoing the opening of Comrade Mao Zedong’s famous article, ‘Where do correct ideas come from?’, Comrade Xi asserts that, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics did not fall from the sky”, but rather is deeply rooted not simply in the four decades of ‘reform and opening up’, but in the whole history of the Chinese revolution and in the inheritance of 5,000 years of Chinese civilization. 

He goes on to explain that the socialist revolution constituted, “the most extensive and profound social transformation in the history of the Chinese nation.” After the establishment of the basic socialist system, the Party has, “made a long-term exploration of how to build socialism in China and has made important achievements as well as experienced serious twists and turns. The main problem here is that building socialism in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society like ours is an unprecedented undertaking, and there is no ready-made model to follow.”

Engels, he points out, noted that “‘the so-called ‘socialist society’ is not something that is set in stone, but should be seen, like any other social system, as a society that changes and reforms frequently.'” Socialism with Chinese characteristics has to be grasped, “in the course of the evolution of socialism in the world,” from Marx and Engels who turned socialism from an ideal into a science, to the October Revolution, which saw scientific socialism develop from theory to practice. Furthermore: “After the end of the Second World War, a number of socialist countries were born, especially our Party led the people to establish New China and the socialist system, which led scientific socialism from practice in one country to development in many countries. At that time, the socialist camp was flourishing, and together with the anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggles of Asian, African and Latin American countries, it formed a basically evenly matched pattern with the capitalist world, which is why Comrade Mao Zedong said that ‘the east wind overwhelmed the west wind.'”

However, historical development is full of twists and turns. Events in the late 1980s and early 1990s not only led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist countries, they also, “brought a serious impact on the vast number of developing countries that aspired to socialism, and many of them were forced to take the path of copying the Western system.”

Noting that the previous year had seen the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, Comrade Xi explained, “I mentioned this major historical event at the beginning of the second part of the 19th Party Congress report in order to declare the historical impact of the October Revolution on the birth and development of the Chinese Communist Party. As Lenin profoundly pointed out in commemorating the fourth anniversary of the October Revolution, ‘this first victory is not yet final,’ but ‘we have already begun this enterprise. It does not matter when and for what period the proletarians of which country will carry this cause to its conclusion. What is important is that the ice has been broken, the voyage has been opened, the way has been shown.'”

Therefore, Xi notes, “The success of scientific socialism in China is of great significance to Marxism and scientific socialism, and to socialism in the world.” It is conceivable, he continues, that if the leadership of the CPC and China’s socialist system had also collapsed, then the cause of socialism as a whole could have been plunged into darkness. As it is, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics is becoming the banner for the development of scientific socialism in the 21st century and the mainstay for the revitalization of socialism in the world.”

The Chinese leader also addresses the question of the CPC being both a “ruling party” and a “revolutionary party”. He explains that those who assert that the party has transitioned from a revolutionary party to a ruling party are mistaken. They are not two distinct things. “We are communists and revolutionaries and should not lose our revolutionary spirit,” Comrade Xi notes, and continues: “Our Party is a Marxist ruling party, but at the same time it is a Marxist revolutionary party, and we must maintain the same vigor, revolutionary enthusiasm, and desperate spirit as in the past during the revolutionary war and carry out the revolutionary work to the end.”

This document has yet to be officially published in English translation. What follows is a machine translation from the Chinese original, received from the Dongsheng news group. As a result, it may contain some minor inaccuracies and should not be considered definitive. However, we are reprinting it on account of its great importance, rich content and timeliness.

When I met with Chinese and foreign journalists after the First Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, I said that practice has proved that our Party is able to lead the people not only in a great social revolution, but also in a great self-revolution of the whole Party. Let me first make some comments from the perspective of social revolution.

Socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era is the fruit of the great social revolution led by our Party and the continuation of the great social revolution led by our Party, and must be carried out consistently.

Both history and reality tell us that a social revolution often requires a long historical process to achieve ultimate victory. Only by looking back at the road taken, comparing the road of others, looking far ahead of the road, to figure out where we came from, where to go, many issues to see deep, accurate.

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Why China isn’t capitalist

The below article by Stephen Millies was originally published by the US socialist journal Struggle/La Lucha. It is an interesting and provocative response to those comrades on the left who contend that capitalism has been restored in the People’s Republic of China.

Noting that China’s economy may already be larger than that of the United States, Stephen asserts that: “This tremendous economic growth is the result of China’s socialist revolution… You can’t explain China’s fantastic economic growth except by admitting there’s some other social system than capitalism in charge.”

An interesting aspect of the article is its presentation of how the Soviet Union, even in the late 1980s, played a major part in the liberation of southern Africa. It also notes that: “Sometimes retreats are absolutely necessary. For example, the Long March was a glorious retreat that saved the Communist Party of China from being destroyed.” In this context, Stephen also references Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), along with an observation from Karl Marx that, following a socialist revolution, the working class might have to “buy off the band” of the wealthy.

Wall Street and the Pentagon view the People’s Republic of China as their number one enemy. China is the target of U.S. imperialism’s “Pivot to Asia.” 

China’s economy may already be larger than the United States. The American Enterprise Institute―one of the best-known capitalist think tanks ― admits China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest manufacturer back in 2010. 

That’s historically significant. Factories in the United States exceeded Britain’s production in the 1890s.

China is now the “workshop of the world.” In 2021, China built nearly 17 million more motor vehicles than the U.S.

This tremendous economic growth is the result of China’s socialist revolution. It’s not just a matter of China making more than a billion tons of steel a year or having more miles of high-speed rail than the rest of the world.

When Mao Zedong declared “China has stood up” in 1949 and the People’s Republic of China was born, Chinese people lived to be, on average, just 36 years old. 

By 2022 life expectancy had more than doubled to reach 77.3 years. That’s a longer lifespan than in the United States.

Despite these tremendous gains, some communists and revolutionaries contend that capitalism has been restored in the People’s Republic of China. They point to the 606 billionaires in China, including 67 in Hong Kong. 

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From Belgrade to Beijing: Comparing socialist economic reforms in Eastern Europe and China

We are very pleased to republish this important article by Roland Boer, Professor of Marxist Philosophy in the School of Marxism at China’s Dalian University of Technology, and a member of our advisory group.

Professor Boer makes a detailed and systematic theoretical and comparative analysis of the economic reforms undertaken in China since the end of the 1970s and the earlier reforms carried out in a number of East European socialist countries, particularly the two countries whose reforms were most extensive – Yugoslavia, with its decentralised system of self-managed worker enterprises in a ‘labour-managed market economy’, developed following the country’s expulsion from the Cominform in 1948; and Hungary, which initiated its New Economic Mechanism (NEM) in 1968.

He notes that the results were very different. With the exception of Belarus, Eastern Europe devolved into capitalist “shock therapy”, whereas “China took its reforms to a point where we are now entering yet a new stage in socialist construction, based on the prosperity that has been achieved. Along the way, many lessons have been learned, concerning planning, markets, ownership and liberation of productive forces, and indeed how the relations and forces of production interact with one another during socialist construction. It is precisely in light of these experiences that a systematic comparison becomes possible.”

His comparison looks at four major aspects:

1) The de-linking of a market economy from a capitalist system, and the concomitant de-linking of a planned economy from a socialist system;

2) The question as to whether a market economy is a neutral instrument that can be used in any system, or whether it is a component that is shaped by the system of which it is a part;

3) Planning and markets within a socialist system;

4) The relationship between ownership of the means (and forces) of production and liberation of productive forces, and thus the interactions between relations and forces of production.

Boer notes that both Eastern Europe and China achieved rapid economic growth by adopting the centrally planned economic model in the years following the establishment of a socialist state. Indeed, in the case of China, he notes: “This was necessary at the time, not merely in terms of overcoming the devastating effects of semi-colonialism, feudal relics, and comprador capitalism, but also to get the economy moving from decades of revolutionary struggle and war. The results were stunning for a time, outstripping any other developing country.”

However, in both Eastern Europe and China, contradictions gradually mounted, leading to the search for a new economic paradigm. He further notes that whilst China took the road of economic reform later, it has also taken its reforms much further.

Boer poses the question of how one should define a market economy. In Eastern Europe it was seen as a mechanism, or neutral tool, but the author argues that China has taken “an important step beyond the instrumentalist position, in which a market is simply a neutral tool that can be used in different social systems. Instead, the institutional forms of market and planned economies are shaped, are determined in their nature, by the system in question.” Therefore, the institutional form becomes not “market socialism” but rather a “socialist market economy”.  As a Chinese scholar cited by Boer observes: “There is no market economy institutional form that is independent of the basic economic system of society.”

Having analysed some of the factors that caused socialism in Eastern Europe to collapse but to prevail in China, Boer notes that: “In the midst of China’s stunning economic success, a spate of well-documented and widely-studied problems became apparent during the ‘wild 90s,’ and even into the early 2000s: declining conditions for workers and consequent unrest; illegal appropriation of collectively owned village lands; a growing gap between rich and poor regions; environmental degradation; ideological disarray, with proposals ranging from the recovery of Confucianism to bourgeois liberalisation; and a rift between the CPC and the common people, leading to corruption and lack of knowledge of Marxism even by leading cadres.”

Tackling these issues has become the theme of the next, and current, stage of the Chinese revolution, since Xi Jinping assumed the leadership of the party in 2012. Boer argues that: “We can already begin to see clear results: about 800 million rural and urban workers have been lifted out of poverty, with almost 500 million now in a ‘middle-income’ group (and not a ‘middle class’); the gap between rich and poor has been decreasing now for about a decade; rural and urban workers are engaged in all aspects of China’s ever-strengthening socialist democratic system; in light of ecological civilisation, China has become a world leader in ‘green growth’; and the almost 100-million strong CPC is more united, more knowledgeable about Marxism, and more focused on the task ahead than at almost any time in its past.”

This is an extremely important article which deserves close study. It was originally published in the journal World Review of Political Economy (published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and produced and distributed by Pluto Journals). 

Abstract: This study offers a comparative analysis of economic reforms in Eastern Europe and China. Some CMEA countries—especially Yugoslavia and Hungary—undertook reforms in the 1960s, while China launched its reform and opening-up in 1978. In light of the lessons learned—concerning planning, markets, ownership of means of production and liberation of productive forces, and the interaction of relations and forces of production during socialist construction—it is possible to provide a systematic comparison. After providing background to the reforms, the comparison has four steps: 1) de-linking a market economy from a capitalist system, and the concomitant de-linking of a planned economy from a socialist system; 2) whether a market economy is a neutral instrument usable in any system, or whether it is a component shaped by the system of which it is a part; 3) planning and markets within a socialist system; 4) the relationship between ownership of the means of production (and control over the forces of production) and liberation of productive forces in the process of socialist construction. The fourth topic leads to the more foundational question of the dialectical interactions between relations and forces of production, since on this matter the economic definition of socialism turns.

Key words: Eastern Europe; China; economic reforms; comparison


In light of the renewed interest in the nature of market reforms within socialist systems, I offer a systematic comparative analysis of Eastern European and Chinese experiences. Some CMEA countries—especially Yugoslavia and Hungary—undertook such reforms in the 1960s, while China launched its reform and opening-up in 1978. That they had very different results is well known, with Eastern Europe (apart from Belarus) devolving into capitalist “shock therapy” while China took its reforms to a point where we are now entering yet a new stage in socialist construction, based on the prosperity that has been achieved. Along the way, many lessons have been learned, concerning planning, markets, ownership and liberation of productive forces, and indeed how the relations and forces of production interact with one another during socialist construction. It is precisely in light of these experiences that a systematic comparison becomes possible. The comparison that follows has four main steps: 1) the well-established de-linking of a market economy from a capitalist system, and the concomitant de-linking of a planned economy from a socialist system; 2) the question as to whether a market economy is a neutral instrument that can be used in any system, or whether it is a component that is shaped by the system of which it is a part; 3) planning and markets within a socialist system; 4) the relationship between ownership of the means (and forces) of production and liberation of productive forces, and thus the interactions between relations and forces of production. While the first three items concern the specific question of markets and planning within a socialist system, the fourth topic opens up the comparison to the more foundational question of the relations and forces of production. Foundational, since on this matter the very definition of socialism turns, specifically in terms of economic matters. While the topic itself concerns economic reform in a socialist context, my underlying concern is philosophical, seeking to determine the theoretical underpinnings of the similarities and differences between Eastern Europe and China.

Background to Economic Reforms

For readers not familiar with the historical background, I offer a brief summary.[1] Many of the countries in the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA)[2] began experimenting with market reforms in the 1960s. Initially, the new communist governments had seized control of production from the former ruling class and instituted old-style centralised planning. However, by the 1960s the early breakaway economic growth began to falter, and new contradictions emerged. A range of reforms began, with all of them entailing elements of market relations (Wagener 1998a, 8–9). Some went cautiously, maintaining a predominance of centralised management, such as the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Romania, and—after an initial burst of more far-reaching reforms—Czechoslovakia.[3] The DDR (East Germany) also had a period of reform in the 1960s, drawing lessons from the practice so as to enhance its centralised planning in the 1970s (Melzer 1982; Kraus 1998). The most significant market reforms took place in two countries, Yugoslavia and Hungary. The specific steps and mechanisms may have differed due to local conditions, but they shared an overall framework in terms of the scope of reforms, institutional adjustments, planning, and market incentives.

Yugoslavia made its initial moves early (due to expulsion from the Cominform in 1948) and eventually developed a decentralised system of self-managed worker enterprises in a “labour-managed market economy.”[4] They felt their way forward, since the path had never before been followed. By the 1960s, Yugoslavia had ended central planning, permitted worker-managed enterprises to determine what would be paid as salaries and what would be retained, transferred money from “social investment funds” to the banks, and sought integration with the global economy. Decentralisation was the watchword, moving ever outward to the republics, banking sector, and basic organisations of associated labour (BOALs). While Yugoslav economists spoke of moving from political to economic determination of the economy, from the state owning the means of production to workers doing so, questions remain as to how far they actually went.

In Hungary, the major step was the New Economic Mechanism (NEM) of 1968, which took on the dialectical challenge of improving planning by stepping back from direct planning.[5] The approach was described as “indirect centralisation,” preferring indirect economic levers. In place of centrally determined input and output, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were to compete, establish supply chains, set prices in light of material needs and production, be sensitive to consumer demands, and be driven to innovate. The result was a growth of worker cooperatives and a substantial non-state sector of the economy. While Hungary sought a fine balance between planning and a market, it experienced significant swings back and forth between what they saw as the centralising tendency of planning and the decentralising pull of markets (Szamuely and Csaba 1998).

China stuck to a centrally planned economy longer than the countries of Eastern Europe (although not the Soviet Union), but it has also taken the process of reform much further. For the first thirty years, accelerated socialised ownership of the means of production and a planned economy were the notable features. This was necessary at the time, not merely in terms of overcoming the devastating effects of semi-colonialism, feudal relics, and comprador capitalism, but also to get the economy moving from decades of revolutionary struggle and war. The results were stunning for a time, outstripping any other developing country (Cheng and Cao 2009; Cheng 2020, 99–101), but they eventually faced mounting contradictions leading to the launch of the reform and opening-up in 1978. At first tentative, drawing on farmer experiments in household responsibility and on market economic mechanisms in light of the overall planned economy, soon enough the reforms gathered speed. The four modernisations took off, the drive to prosperity became a major focus, and a socialist market economy became a foundational feature of logistics and distribution, albeit always coupled with a planned economy. It is constantly emphasised that all these developments have been undertaken for the purpose of socialist construction in light of the Four Cardinal Principles, so as to avoid rightist (bourgeois liberalisation) and leftist (an over-hasty leap to communism) deviations. We are now at a recognised point that China is moving into yet another stage, but I will say more in the comparative material to follow.

De-linking

In light of this background summary, I move to comparing the experiences in Eastern Europe and China. To begin with, both Eastern European and Chinese approaches assume the necessity of de-linking: a “market economy” is not by definition a capitalist market economy; and socialism is not exclusively defined by a planned economy. This de-linking is by no means new, but a few too many are still influenced by the deceptive slogan of one of the godfathers of a now defunct neoliberalism, Count Ludwig von Mises (1932, 142): “the alternative is still either Socialism or a market economy.” Why deceptive? Mises slipped in the assumption that socialism means a planned economy and that a market economy means a capitalist market economy. It is perhaps better if Marxist analysts do not hold to such a neoliberal assumption.

By contrast, the de-linking move has a long history, from Marx’s observations concerning the ancient Roman slave market economy, through ancient military market economies and feudal markets, before we even arrive at the possibility of markets within a socialist system (Marx [1894] 1983, 583–599; Boer 2015; Kula 1976). Thus, market economies have existed throughout human history, but only one form has become a capitalist market economy. As for the theoretical possibility of a market economic form within socialism, this emerged in an explicitly Marxist framework in the proposals of the Polish economist, Oskar Lange, and became a given position in Eastern Europe (Lange 1936, 1937; Bajt 1989; Horvat 1989).[6] By the 1970s in China, we find that Deng Xiaoping and his circle began to reaffirm this insight from Eastern Europe, now developed in light of Chinese conditions (Deng [1979] 2008, 236; see also Yang 2009, 174; Yang 2010, 11–13).[7] Clearly, we are on common and uncontroversial ground on the question of de-linking, although some of those who are unfortunate enough to have been brought up in a Western liberal context still need to be reminded of this common position.

Mechanism or Institutional Form

Given that a market economy is by no means coterminous with capitalism and can be deployed within other systems (including socialist ones), the next point of comparison concerns how one is to define a market economy. The dominant position in Eastern Europe was that a market is an “economic mechanism” (Szamuely 1982, 1984). In other words, a market was seen as a neutral economic instrument or tool that could be used within different systems. For example, Kornai (1959) argued in an earlier work that a market economic mechanism could be deployed in a socialist system through direct and indirect levers. The direct levers should be centralised through the state: direction of production, allocation of production materials, regulation of foreign trade, and managerial appointments. For Kornai, the problem thus far had been over-centralisation and the dominance of direct levers. Thus, he proposed a greater role for a number of indirect levers, specifically investment, the monetary system, the price system, and the wage fund.

Some of the earlier Chinese material—especially from the 1980s—used similar terminology: we find “method [方法fangfa],” “means [手段shouduan],” and “mechanism [机制jizhi]” (Deng [1990] 2008, 363–364; [1991] 2008, 367; Zhao 1987). Here too was a tendency to see a market as a neutral instrument, which could be deployed to “serve [服务fuwu]” the community and the common good. However, by the early 1990s specific terminology began to be used, distinguishing between an overall socialist system (制度 zhidu) and the specific institutional forms or structures (体制 tizhi and at times 体系 tixi)[8] within such a system (Deng [1992] 2008, 370; Jiang [1992] 2006; Huang 1994). In economic matters, there are two main institutional forms: a market economy and a planned economy. The institutional form of a market economy organises the forces and relations of production in a particular way, allocating resources and distributing products by means of the law of value, price signals, and competition. A planned economy organises the forces and relations of production by means of regulation, long-term calculation of means and ends, dealing with challenges, and setting perimeters for what can and cannot be done. The key point is that these two institutional forms are not necessarily antagonistic, for they may also work together within an overall system.

The specific terminology and the conclusions reached were the result of considerable debate in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. But why make this crucial distinction? It takes an important step beyond the instrumentalist position, in which a market is simply a neutral tool that can be used in different social systems. Instead, the institutional forms of market and planned economies are shaped, are determined in their nature, by the system in question.[9] Thus, if one has a foundational or “basic socialist system [社会主义基本制度shehuizhuyi jiben zhidu]” (Peng 1994, 13), then the institutional form of a market economy becomes not “market socialism” (which assumes an instrumentalist position), but a “socialist market economy.”[10]

We may also use the terminology of universal and particular: a market is a universal or commonality that may be deployed in the particularity of different systems, whether ancient Rome, feudal Europe, Western capitalism, or socialism. As Peng Lixun points out, the difference between a socialist market economy and a capitalist market economy is “not the generality [一般性yibanxing] of the market economy, but the particularity [特殊性teshuxing] of combining it with the basic socialist system” (Peng 1994, 13; see also Huang 1994, 4). Thus, to confuse an overall system with an institutional form is a profound category mistake. One final step: lest one still entertains the illusion that a market economy is an independent entity (“the market” as the neoclassical ideologues would have it), Huang Nansen (1994, 5) observes: “There is no market economy institutional form that is independent of the basic economic system of society.” One cannot have the institutional form of the market economy separate from the system of which it forms a part.

Planning and Markets

The third point of comparison concerns how the relations between market and planning were and are understood in Eastern Europe and China.

Eastern Europe: The Limit of Hard Budget Constraints

In Eastern Europe, they could not really get past the either-or opposition between planning and markets. The opposition took a number of forms, such as centralisation and decentralisation, state control and worker (economic) democracy, or vertical and horizontal relations. Much turned on whether one valued market relations or the state’s role. For some, the state was a hindrance, blocking the full development of a market “proper”;[11] for the majority, however, the state was seen as a distinct positive, especially since a strong and efficient state was the initial means for transforming the economy, society, education, and culture in a socialist direction (Brus 1973, 1975, 65; Brus and Laski 1989; Kozma 1982, 94). The ideal became “central planning with a regulated market” (Brus 1973, 1–20), with market relations functioning in many areas while the state oversaw the whole process and ensured equity, since the interest of society could not be reduced to the sum-total of individual interests. These remained ideals, for too often planning and markets were seen in opposition to one another. Thus, there were starts and stops, two steps forward and then a step back, as well as the differences between Hungary and Yugoslavia (which went much further) and other CMEA countries that retreated to central planning after tentative experiments.

How far did they go? How many market mechanisms could one use? As many Eastern European economists argued, market socialism includes market choices by individuals and enterprises, supply-and-demand price mechanisms, “profit” as a necessary bottom line for an enterprise’s viability, division of labour, and wage differentials. However, they stopped short in three crucial areas: hard budget constraints (entry and exit) for enterprises; pricing determined fully by market dynamics; and the law of value. Let me use the example of budget constraints in Yugoslavia, which had one of the most developed forms of market socialism. Despite the complexity of “soft” budget constraints, with the need for perpetual bargaining and elements of “hard” constraint where the state enforced reforms to ensure economic viability, the Yugoslav government was ultimately not willing to allow enterprises to “exit” if they failed to be financially viable (Kornai 1986, 1992, 487–496; Nove 1991). Thus, the state continued to “underwrite” enterprises so that none of them would suffer bankruptcy. As for prices, these were always regulated in some way, and they were never really able to tackle the law of value.

China: Reshaping the Law of Value

The contrast with China is notable. Here they have “gone all the way,” as it were, implementing all of the crucial common features of a market institutional form. This includes market pricing for most goods, hard budget constraints and thus “entry” and “exit” for many enterprises (including inefficient SOEs in the 1990s), and the law of value. Of course, the key SOEs, which remain the main economic drivers in China, are subject to “soft” budget constraints. But—staying with the metaphor—there is a distinctly hard edge to such constraints: the SOEs have been undergoing constant reform, learning from market efficiencies, ensuring the budget bottom line, and emerging as hubs for innovation and expansion.

Let me say a little more concerning the law of value, which is seen as a basic principle (基本原则jiben yuanze) of Marxist political economy. This is not an ossified basic principle, unchangeable for all time, since even the basic principles need constant deepening and development in light of the theoretical implications of specific solutions for particular problems (Cheng 2020, 102). In terms of the Marxist law of value, the distinction between use value and exchange value, and the identification of surplus value produced by workers as the key to capitalist exploitation, arose through the analysis of a capitalist system. But does the labour theory of value also apply to socialist construction and a socialist system? If so, how? One may find plenty of statements to the effect that one must have a law of value if one has a market institutional form (Yang 1994, 6; Zhang and Zhuang 1994, 5; Gao and Zheng 1996, 4; Huo 2011).[12] But how does it work in the qualitatively different context of a socialist system?

On this matter, Cheng Enfu and his colleagues have been among the foremost proponents for reworking this basic principle, which they see as an inescapable part of a market institutional form (Cheng, Wang, and Zhu 2005, 2019; Cheng 2007, 16–21). Cheng defines Marx’s theory as follows:

all labour that directly produces material and immaterial goods for market exchange, as well as labour that directly serves the production and reproduction of labour goods, including the internal management labour of natural and legal entities and scientific and technological labour, are value-creating labour or productive labour. (Cheng 2007, 16)

Already we can see the effort to develop the theory beyond Marx’s focus on: a) production of material goods in industry, agriculture, construction, and so on; b) transport or circulation of goods. Cheng and his colleagues go much further, arguing that value is also produced in: c) “intangible spiritual [无形精神wuxing jingshen]” goods, by which is meant activities that contribute to cultural vitality, such as education, research, art and literature, media, and so on; d) “service labour [服务劳动fuwu laodong]” involved in activities such as medical care, health, and sports; e) management and direction of enterprises, in the sense that such labour involves the management of socialised labour, along with the surplus value that arises from private ownership; f) changes in the objective and subjective conditions of labour (leading to complex outcomes depending on where changes are located), with the main trajectory of such changes being the increase in the complexity, proficiency, and intensity of labour so as to improve the total value of goods and the total social value. This brief summary indicates sufficiently well the effort at reworking the labour theory of value, although Cheng also adds wealth and distribution, in terms of the “total factors involved in wealth production” (land, resources, finance, ecology) and “distribution according to work [按劳分配anlaofenpei]” (along with other forms of distribution).[13] Together, these three—living labour, wealth, and distribution—form a whole, with labour at the core.

What is the outcome of this proposal concerning the “creation of value by living human labour [活劳动创造价值huolaodong chuangzao jiazhi]”? First, the theory of value applies not merely to the industrial worker (工人gongren) but to all forms of labour (劳动laodong)—of which there are hundreds recognised in China. Second, this proposal clearly emphasises the social production of value: it takes place not merely through the selfish individual producer seeking self-aggrandisement (as assumed by neoclassical economics [Cheng 2007, 21–24]), but is a social reality. Third, it follows that the theory of value applies not merely to the socialist market economy, but to the whole of socialist society. On this matter, there is some difference of opinion among Chinese scholars, with some arguing that the law of value applies only to the market institutional form, while others argue that it should be extended to embrace social or public value. I suggest that Cheng Enfu’s proposals also move in the latter direction, especially when he speaks of the increase in “total social value [社会价值总量shehui jiazhi zongliang].” Or, as he proposes elsewhere, the “Gross Domestic Welfare Product [国内生产福利总值guonei shengchan fuli zongzhi],” or GDWP, which draws together the areas of economy, nature, and society in order to determine a comprehensive “final gross welfare product [最终福利总值zuizhong fuli zongzhi]” (Cheng and Cao 2009; Cheng 2020, 101).

Planning, Market, and Non-antagonistic Contradictions

To return to the question of relations between planning and market, we find in Chinese scholarship a range of formulations, although they are not mutually exclusive: fairness of planning and efficiency of a market; benefits for all and innovation; public economy and private economy; regulation according to proportion and regulation according to value; and so on. Through such formulations, the emphasis is on seeking ways for the two institutional forms to enhance one another, with planning focused on improving conditions for market mechanisms and ensuring that they work for the public good, and markets providing insight into improved efficiency and functionality for planning. But let me step back for a moment and put this in more philosophical terms: in the context of contradiction analysis, the category of non-antagonistic contradictions is the key. Stemming from Lenin and thoroughly reworked in a Chinese context, it is very clear that during socialist construction contradictions continue to appear.[14] But such contradictions are now by default non-antagonistic. To be sure, they need to be managed so as to maintain such a non-antagonistic nature (Mao [1957] 1977), but this is to ensure the norm rather than trying to soften the hard edges such as in—for example—a rampant capitalist system. So also with the institutional forms of planning and market. It is in this light that we should understand the moves to speak of a dialectical transcendence (超越chaoyue) or sublation (扬弃yangqi, a translation of the German Aufhebung) of the old opposition of planned and market economies in what more and more are beginning to see as a distinct new stage of China’s development (Zhang 2009, 139; Fang 2014, 63; Zhou and Wang 2019, 41).

Ownership and Liberation of Productive Forces

The question of planning and market leads to the wider question of the relationship between ownership of the means (and forces) of production and liberation of productive forces, which is a specific manifestation of the foundational dialectic of relations and forces of production. But let us step back for a few moments: since this topic is a basic principle of Marxist analysis and takes us to the heart of the economic definition of socialism, I begin with some exegesis of texts by Marx and Engels. These texts will enable me to establish a framework for identifying the historical emphases and shifts in Eastern Europe and then China.

Marx and Engels

In the “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” Marx and Engels look forward to the exercise of power by a communist party after a successful proletarian revolution for the sake of socialist construction:

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production [Produktionsinstrumente] in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces [Produktionskräfte] as rapidly as possible. (Marx and Engels [1848] 1974, 481)

There are two main parts in this sentence. The first concerns the gradual—“by degrees”—seizure of capital and the centralisation of all the instruments or means of production in the hands of a proletariat that now controls the reigns of power. In short, this is the centralised ownership of the means of production by the proletariat embodied—at this point—in the state. The second part concerns the accelerated increase of productive forces, or what we may call, following standard Chinese practice, the liberation of productive forces (解放生产力jiefang shengchanli).[15] Clearly, for Marx and Engels both ownership of the means of production and liberation of productive forces are needed for the process of socialist construction.

Let us stay with ownership for a moment: does such ownership pertain only to the instruments or means of production? Here Engels’s overview in “Karl Marx” is revealing:

The productive forces of society [gesellschaftlichen Produktivkräfte], which have outgrown the control of the bourgeoisie, are only waiting for the taking possession [Besitzergreifung] of them by the associated proletariat in order to bring about a state of things in which every member of society will be enabled to participate not only in production but also in the distribution and administration of social wealth, and which so increases [steigert] the productive forces of society [gesellschaftlichen Produktivkräfte] and their yield by planned operation of the whole of production that the satisfaction of all reasonable needs will be assured to everyone in an ever-increasing measure. (Engels [1877] 1985, 109; see also [1847] 1972, 377; [1894] 1973, 263–264)

Notably, Engels takes a step further than the “Manifesto,” speaking here of “productive forces” (Produktivkräfte 生产力) in regard to both ownership and liberation. Thus, the productive forces require a seizure, a taking possession (Besitzergreifung) by the proletariat, with the outcome that the productive forces will increase (steigert). In this case, the taking possession or ownership also leads to a planned economy, as the flow of Engels’s text indicates. For Engels, ownership—entailing a range of meanings that includes seizure, possession, and control—applies to both the means of production and the forces of production. It is in this sense that I will use the terminology of “ownership” below.[16] However, some questions remain. Are these relatively brief programmatic statements relevant only after the initial seizure of power through a proletarian revolution? Is there a causal relationship between one or the other term?[17] How will the dialectic of liberation and ownership unfold over the long process of socialist construction? Marx and Engels were very careful to note that they had no experience of the construction of socialism, with a communist party in power, so they stressed that the actual results could be determined only from experience and “only scientifically [nur wissenschaftlich]” (Marx [1875] 1985, 22), and that to “attempt to answer such a question in advance and for all cases would be utopia-making” (Engels [1873] 1984, 77).

One further question: what is the starting point of ownership (of both means and forces of production)? Given that this ownership is by the proletariat as a class, the perspective is that of the relations of production. By contrast, liberating the productive forces begins from the perspective of such forces, which include human labour and means of production.[18] It follows that the questions of ownership and liberation are specific manifestations of the core dialectical interaction between relations and forces of production.[19] Let me emphasise that this is a dialectical relation, requiring both features in a constantly unfolding process: the one needs the other, with constant readjustments as one side leaps ahead and the other side needs to be brought up to speed (Stalin [1952] 1997, 196–205).[20]

The First Stage: An Emphasis on Ownership

I have devoted some attention to the material from Marx and Engels and its implications, since it provides the necessary framework for understanding how economic emphases have unfolded in the historical process of socialist construction. We may distinguish initially between two periods, which for now can be designated in terms of an emphasis on ownership of the productive forces, and then by a shift in favour of their liberation—albeit always in a dialectical relation to one another.

To begin with, in both Eastern Europe and China there was a common assumption that the emphasis immediately after a revolutionary seizure of power should be radical changes in the relations of production, manifested specifically in terms of the seizure, ownership and thus control of the means and indeed forces of production. The logic behind this move was straightforward: drawing from Marx and Engels, they identified the main contradiction of a capitalist system in terms of socialised labour and the private ownership of the means and forces of production by the bourgeoisie and remnants of the landlord class. It followed that a communist party in power should seek to transcend the contradiction by socialising such ownership (Engels [1894] 1973, 260). Other factors made this a necessary move, particularly the need to prevent counter-revolution and instigate the economic structures needed both to overcome the previous system and begin the process of socialist construction—abolition of bourgeois private property, industrialisation in light of “backward” economic conditions, collectivisation of agriculture, and a fully planned economy.

Not unexpectedly, this initial move led to an intense focus on production relations, predicated on the belief that the elimination of private ownership would produce equality and social justice. In Eastern Europe, it was very soon assumed that production relations constituted the main subject of Marxist political economy and thus policy-making. In some cases, this focus moved in a volitional direction, assuming that human beings could create, amend, and abolish economic laws themselves (Kraus 1998, 286).[21] In China and in light of its cultural tradition, we do not find such extreme expressions. Already from the time of Mao’s lectures on dialectical materialism (Mao [1937] 1984), the dialectical interaction of the forces and relations of production was a crucial analytic approach. Thus, while Mao did seek to overcome the contradiction inherent in capitalism (Mao [1937] 2009, 318) through the socialisation of ownership, he saw this as a means to liberate production forces (Mao [1945] 2009, 1079; [1956] 2009).

This is precisely what happened in the initial period. There is abundant evidence to show that in both Eastern Europe and China economic production leapt ahead. For example, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany became highly industrialised economies, and the other countries of the CMEA saw significant growth (Höhmann 1982, 1–2; Kozma 1982, 99–104). In China, the “first economic miracle” included significant developments in science and technology, an independent industrial and national economic system, development of education, culture and health, population growth (in numbers and life expectancy), great improvement in socio-economic well-being, and China’s emergence in international affairs, all the way from the United Nations to increased appeal in and engagement with developing countries (Cheng and Cao 2009, 6–8).

The Second Stage: New Means of Liberating Productive Forces

Nonetheless, internal contradictions began to mount. In Eastern Europe, the almost exclusive public ownership (through the state) and the fully-planned economy was showing signs of a limit-point, with supply-side structural blockages, rapid and uneven development over a relatively short period, constant tensions between expanding or modernising production, the risk of overspending national incomes for the sake of production so as to meet consumption demands, and the decline in creative solutions. In short, economies began to stagnate, leading to increased tensions in the relations of production that threatened to become antagonistic (Kozma 1982, 172–176; Kraus 1998, 315–316). In China too problems started to become apparent. Even with all of the achievements noted above, there had been signals of mounting contradictions including the persistence of poverty in rural areas and many regional cities, the emphasis on class struggle in the 1960s, and the increased focus on liberating productive forces through sheer volitional effort (Lin 1969, 8).[22] By the 1970s, intractable contradictions in China’s economic development had become all too apparent (Deng [1982] 2008, 16; Wang and Yang 1994, 105).

The response in both Eastern Europe and China was to seek alternative ways to liberate productive forces, and the approach was to develop in various ways a market institutional form within a socialist system. As already noted, the Eastern European efforts were tentative: they were feeling their way forward along a new path and never managed to resolve many of the new questions in the time they had remaining. China managed to avoid the snares that caught Eastern European countries, in part through careful studies of what went wrong in Eastern Europe, and in part through “pilot projects” that carefully tested new measures before they were implemented country-wide. Thus, while the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe succumbed to the contradictions and suffered the devastating effects of capitalist-imposed “shock-therapy,” China launched itself on a path that has led to its status today as a global economic power. While nominally the “second largest economy” in terms of GDP, on other measures it contributes more than any other country to the global economy (more than 30%), its industrial output and foreign exchange reserves are the highest in the world, it has the largest internal market, it has developed a comprehensive system of quality education, health, and welfare, and it has seen Hong Kong and Macao return (Cheng and Cao 2009; see also Cheng 2018, 2–3; Cheng 2020, 99–101).[23]

Let us pause for a moment and assess the shift to the second stage of economic development. In terms of the dialectic of forces and relations of production, the initial period entailed radical transformations in the relations of production, focused on ownership of the means of production and control over productive forces, so as to spur economic development. Over time, the relations of production became a drag on productive forces, since the latter had leapt ahead and the former had not kept pace. Hence the reforms in Eastern Europe of the 1960s and the reform and opening-up in China from 1978. However, this was not necessarily the way such developments were perceived on the ground. As noted earlier, in Eastern Europe there was a tendency to focus on the tensions between planning and market, with questions turning on the nature of ownership. By contrast, it can be argued that in China the key was liberating productive forces: the question concerned the best means to enable such liberation. Was it to be accelerated ownership of the productive forces, which was the emphasis of the first stage? Or was it to be a socialist market economy in conjunction with planning, as in the second stage?

 In order to understand this emphasis, let us turn to another country with the same initial problem as China: Vietnam. Here too was a poverty-stricken country seeking a socialist path of development, but Vietnam was able to enter into this path somewhat later and thus benefited from the experiences and insights of others. Here the emphasis on productive forces never really slipped into the background. For example, a consistent theme of Le Duan’s speeches from the 1960s—before the success of the revolutionary struggle that united north and south—is that the new production relations require an adequate content through the advancement of productive forces. More concretely, this means building “a material and technical basis for socialism” that is embodied in “large-scale industry capable of providing all branches of the national economy” with the necessary technical equipment. The reason: “only on this basis can we carry out a rational new division of labour in our society, a rational utilisation of our country’s labour power and resources, and attain a high labour productivity” (Le 1963, 180; emphasis added; see also Le 1960, 22–23). In Vietnam, this dialectical coordination of the forces and relations of production was seen as the only way to satisfy the people’s material and cultural needs. Clearly, the lessons from China, and indeed from Eastern Europe, had pressed upon Vietnam the need for economic development, of emphasising the inescapable importance of productive forces and their liberation, so as to provide content for the relations of production.

This was, of course, the signature emphasis of Deng Xiaoping. While he acknowledged the fact that Mao Zedong too had wanted to develop productive forces, Deng pointed out that “not all of the methods Mao used were correct” (Deng [1985] 2008b, 116). For Deng the “development of the productive forces . . . is the most fundamental [最根本zui genben] revolution from the viewpoint of historical development” (Deng [1980] 2008, 311). “Poor socialism” is not socialism; instead, socialism should seek to develop productive forces, improve the country’s strength and the lives of the people (Deng [1986] 2008, 172; [1992] 2008, 372).

A New Stage: Dialectical Sublation (扬弃yangqi)

Thus far, I have outlined two main stages in the path of socialist construction. With varying emphases and time-frames, we can see these stages in both Eastern Europe and China. That the second stage, involving a market institutional form, went in diametrically opposed directions in each place is well-known—albeit not for want of hoping for a fully functional “market socialism” in Eastern Europe (Balcerowicz 1989; Bajt 1989; Brus 1989, 1992; Dyba 1989; Horvat 1989).[24] At this point, Eastern Europe drops out of our analysis, but it needs to be asked: why did Eastern Europe—with the notable exception of Belarus[25]—devolve into “shock therapy” capitalism? Many are the potential answers, but in terms of the analytic framework used here, I propose two reasons. First, they did not embrace the dialectical need to develop a full market institutional form for the sake of the socialist road. Instead, it was precisely the half measures, the swerving this way and that, that set up a capitalist turn. Second, they lacked the strong state structures—a crucial feature of socialist systems since the Soviet Union in the 1930s—to enable such a dialectic.[26] On both counts, China has succeeded.

As a result, in China it is becoming apparent that a new and third stage is now well underway. This stage is usually dated from 2012, the beginning of Xi Jinping’s tenure as General Secretary of the CPC and President of the People’s Republic of China. Before considering the many indicators of such a stage, let me step back a moment and focus on the new contradictions that arose as a result of the resolute emphasis on liberating productive forces during the decades of the reform and opening-up. In the midst of China’s stunning economic success, a spate of well-documented and widely-studied problems became apparent during the “wild 90s,” and even into the early 2000s: declining conditions for workers and consequent unrest; illegal appropriation of collectively owned village lands; a growing gap between rich and poor regions; environmental degradation; ideological disarray, with proposals ranging from the recovery of Confucianism to bourgeois liberalisation; and a rift between the CPC and the common people, leading to corruption and lack of knowledge of Marxism even by leading cadres. In light of these new contradictions, two core questions arose. First, were they systemic to the reform and opening-up, as a few too many Western observers assumed, or were they contingent and incidental to the overall process? The answer comes straight of Marxist dialectical analysis: they were incidental to the larger process of socialist reform (Lo 2007, 120–121, 129). Second, what was to be the solution? Here the answer too is dialectical, deploying contradiction analysis: the way to solve these internally generated contradictions was to deepen the reform process itself (CPC Central Committee 2013; Xi 2018; Zan 2015).

One way to consider the results in China is in terms of public ownership. In light of repeated warnings from scholars and policy advisers such as Cheng Enfu concerning a drift away from public ownership as the mainstay (Cheng 2007; Cheng and Xie 2015, 59–60), there has been a notable tightening up on private companies,[27] and a strengthening and reform of state-owned enterprises so that, as efficient hubs of innovation, their role as the backbone of the economy is being enhanced (Xi 2017). But this is only one perspective, and it risks seeing the shift in emphasis as a type of return to the features of the first stage.[28] Instead, the process of deepening reform is far more comprehensive (全面quanmian), covering a full range from the economic base to superstructural components. We can already begin to see clear results: about 800 million rural and urban workers have been lifted out of poverty, with almost 500 million now in a “middle-income” group (and not a “middle class”[29]); the gap between rich and poor has been decreasing now for about a decade; rural and urban workers are engaged in all aspects of China’s ever-strengthening socialist democratic system; in light of ecological civilisation, China has become a world leader in “green growth”; and the almost 100-million strong CPC is more united, more knowledgeable about Marxism, and more focused on the task ahead than at almost any time in its past. The formulations of the new stage vary, such as China “has stood up, become better off, and grown in strength [从站起来、富起来到强起来]” (Xi 2020b, 12) and the “third economic miracle [第三个经济奇迹di san ge jingji qiji]” (Cheng and Cao 2009, 6) or “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era [新时代中国特色社会主义]” (Xi 2020b, 1).

Conclusion

In this comparison between Eastern Europe and China, I began with the specific question of market and planning institutional forms within a socialist system. On this matter, I found common ground on the question of de-linking, and in terms of the underlying dynamics that led to reforms in Eastern Europe in the 1960s and China from 1978. Differences also emerged: in seeing a market as a neutral “economic mechanism” or as an institutional form that is shaped by and indeed inseparable from the system of which it is a part; in a tendency to see planning and market in an either-or tension and thus seeking a delicate balance, or to seeing them in a both-and relation, with the one enhancing the other in terms of non-antagonistic contradictions.

The treatment of planning and market led me to address the more foundational question of ownership (of both means and forces of production) and liberation of productive forces, and thus the dialectic of relations and forces of production. There is no need to repeat the detail of that discussion here, so let me conclude with a more philosophical observation concerning the approach to contradictions. Eastern Europe reveals some influences from the Western philosophical tradition’s emphasis on either-or, or zero-sum.[30] Thus, we found a heavy focus on ownership—at least in the initial stage—and a tendency to see this emphasis in tension with liberating productive forces through a market mechanism. As noted earlier, this either-or approach was manifested in a series of related oppositions: centralisation and decentralisation, state control and economic democracy, or vertical and horizontal. By contrast, in countries such as China and Vietnam the emphasis has arguably been on finding the best way to liberate productive forces. Undeveloped economic conditions, as well experiences of European imperialism, play a significant role in this emphasis, but there is also a cultural and philosophical emphasis on both-and, in the sense that “what is contradictory is also complementary [相反相成xiangfan-xiangcheng].” In Marxist terminology, we may speak of non-antagonistic contradictions in socialist construction. So the key question was: how to enable such liberation? Through radical transformation of the relations of production, characteristic of the first thirty years? A resolute emphasis on productive forces, as we find with the reform and opening-up? Or a people-centred approach, as a dialectical transformation of the first two stages? Historically, the answer is obviously affirmative for all three questions. That there will be new contradictions—such as the policy of “dual circulation [双循环shuang xunhuan]”—goes without saying.


[1] For more detail, see a couple of earlier works (Boer 2021a; 2021b, 115–138).

[2] The CMEA included all Eastern European countries, along with Mongolia, Cuba, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia as an equal trading partner in 1964.

[3] Country by country economic surveys may be found in Nove, Höhmann, and Seidenstecher (1982) and Wagener (1998b).

[4] On Yugoslavia there is a wealth of rarely-studied material available (Vanek 1972; Dubey 1975; Rusinow 1977; Estrin 1983; Lydall 1984; Brus and Laski 1989, 87–101; Nove 1991, 175–184; Gligorov 1998; Mencinger 2000).

[5] Again, there are many studies of the Hungarian experience (Brus and Laski 1989, 61–72; Nove 1991, 162–175; Swain 1992; Szamuely and Csaba 1998; Bockman 2011, 105–132).

[6] Lange’s approach was that of Marxist political economy, but he was heir to a longer non-Marxist theoretical tradition that examined the possibilities of markets and competition in a “socialist state.” Thus, Walras suggested that only such a state would provide the necessary institutions for market competition and just distribution, and Pareto and Barone argued for a “Ministry of Production” that would ensure competitive markets, determine equilibrium prices, and so maximise socio-economic well-being, including redistribution where needed. For Barone, this may be conceivable theoretically, but was—he opined—practically impossible. In part, Lange’s studies sought to show that it was very much possible (Walras [1896] 2014; Pareto 1896, 56–59; 1902; Barone [1908] 1935).

[7] In a Chinese context, the issue was raised in an initially ignored study by Yu Zuyao (1979), only to be picked up by Deng Xiaoping and others within a few months.

[8] If one consults a Chinese dictionary, one will find 体制tizhi translated as structure, organisation, and set-up. But since the terminology became very specific, I translate the word as “institutional form,” a term drawn from Régulation Theory (Boyer and Saillard 2002). An “institutional form” is a specific building block or component of a larger system, and it is one among others.

[9] Of all the Eastern European sources I have studied, only Horvat (1989, 233) makes this point: “It is not the market that determines a social system; it is, on the contrary, the socio-economic system that determines the type of the market.”

[10] As Xi Jinping observes,

The term “socialist” is the key descriptor, and this is something that we must never lose sight of. We call our economy a socialist market economy because we are committed to maintaining the strengths of our system while effectively avoiding the deficiencies of a capitalist market economy. (Xi 2020a)

[11] This position is particularly noticeable in Janos Kornai, who began as a proponent of a market mechanism within a socialist system and ended up as an ideologue for a capitalist system (Kornai 1992, 1993; 2006, 273–275).

[12] The necessity of a law of value was already emphasised by Mao Zedong in the late 1950s, and came to the fore again in the 1980s with Deng Xiaoping (Mao [1959] 2009; Deng [1985] 2008a, 130; [1988] 2008, 262).

[13] 按劳分配anlaofenpei is a four-character rendering of the principle of socialism initially identified in the Soviet Union of the 1920s and 1930s: from each according to ability, to each according to work (Boer 2017, 30–36).

[14] As Lenin famously put it in his notes on Bukharin: “Antagonism and contradiction are not at all the same thing. Under socialism, the first will disappear, the second will remain” (Lenin 1920, 391). Drawing on Engels and Marx, Lenin ensured that the category of non-antagonistic contradictions would become a staple of Marxist dialectics until this day (Boer 2021b, 55–84).

[15] We already see this terminology emerging in the 1950s (Mao [1956] 2009), and it became a signature emphasis of Deng Xiaoping.

[16] It should be noted that the terminology was not fully clarified in the works of Marx and Engels (see especially Engels [1894] 1973, 263–264), and it would take later developments to achieve such clarity. Most of the terminology was developed and established in the Soviet Union, and one may usefully compare the three editions of the authoritative Great Soviet Encyclopedia to see how the terminology was clarified (Berestnei 1940; Malyshchev 1955; Vasilchuk 1975). Here we find that the productive forces are defined as the combination of human labour power with the means of production so as to transform the raw materials of nature in the creation of socio-economic well-being (and thereby determine the level of society). In this definition, the means of production are a subset of the forces of production, but the term has a specific meaning: the means of production constitute all of the materials necessary for human beings to engage in production. Or, as Marx suggests in the first volume of Capital (Marx [1867] 2004, 131), labour resources (劳动资料laodong ziliao) and the objects of labour (劳动对象laodong duixiang) together constitute the means of production.

[17] Engels in particular suggests that there is a causal relation, as the text quoted above indicates, as well as his fuller statement in Anti-Dühring (Engels [1894] 1973, 263–264).

[18] Here I follow standard usage (see note 16): while human labour is one of the productive forces, the specific relations of human beings to one another in the process of production, which is often manifested in terms of class relations, constitute the relations of production (生产关系shengchan guanxi).

[19] This is not to say that the framework of forces and relations of production is the only way to analyse developments. For sake of clarity and focus, I leave aside—or at least mention briefly—the question of volitional or ideological features at certain points, the role of the state not merely in planning but also in overseeing a market institutional form, and the relations between formal and real socialisation (see footnote 27).

[20] Stalin pointed out that certain economic laws have a valence in socialist construction—not least the contradictions between the forces and relations of production. On the one hand, the radical shift in relations of production—public ownership and collectivisation—had a profound effect on unleashing productive forces after the October Revolution; on the other hand, the dialectic of forces and relations of production changes in light of specific conditions. In a certain situation, the forces of production lag and become a fetter on production relations, while in another situation the reverse applies. The solution: the laggard needs to be brought up to speed. Notably, Stalin’s text produced a temporally shortening effect: while the Soviet Union had already experienced three decades of socialist construction, with the consequent experience of new problems in Eastern Europe Stalin’s text appeared early in the piece in relation to their economic development. It would take a decade or more for the practical implications to emerge in terms of the reform programs.

[21] This emphasis led to significant debate concerning the nature and range of ownership, which included: the nature of private property in a socialist system in which public ownership of the means of production was the norm; the various types of ownership that were emerging; and the distinction between public ownership (by the state on behalf of society) and social ownership, in the sense of society having effective disposition over the means of production it owns (Horvat 1969; Brus 1975; Brus and Laski 1989).

[22] In some respects, the emphasis on volitional solutions, characteristics of leftist emphases, may be seen as an over-compensation for the initial inability to overcome the problem of lagging productive forces. Many thanks to Antonis Balasopoulos for this insight.

[23] During this time, we also find a significant reassessments of the category of ownership. The oft-repeated principle is that public ownership should be the mainstay, while other forms of ownership can also exist in a “mixed ownership economy [混合所有制hunhe suoyouzhi].” In this context, there was an emphasis on the diverse forms that public ownership may take. Instead of a single form of public ownership, we find state-owned enterprises, cooperatives, collectively owned farm land, and the public dimensions of private enterprises with their CPC units and social responsibility reports. While a significant diversity of private ownership also arose, this was never seen in terms of neo-liberal privatisation (Thesis Group 2009, 94–95; Cheng and Xie 2015, 61).

[24] I have deliberately not included Gorbachev’s perestroika in the Soviet Union, since this was a distinctly non-socialist experiment.

[25] The case of Belarus requires another study. Belarus responded to the chaotic and economically destructive privatisation in the former Soviet Union with a deliberate shift to realising “market socialism” when Lukashenko came to power in 1994. For a careful study, see Li and Cheng (2020).

[26] On the Soviet Union and its breakdown, see further Cheng Enfu and Liu Zixu (2018, 70–71), who identify ideological confusion from the time of Khrushchev’s extreme negation of Stalin, the breakdown of organisational discipline that enabled non-communists to rise to leadership, and resultant disavowal of scientific socialism by such leaders. A major reform and renewal of the socialist path requires a united, disciplined, and theoretically knowledgeable communist party, and thus a well-functioning governmental apparatus to see the process through.

[27] This strengthening and tightening up of regulation may be seen more recently with regard to Ant Group and Evergrande.

[28] On this question, another level of analysis can also be deployed, now in terms of formal and real socialisation of production. While this approach would require a different study from the present one, it may be argued that the initial stage of socialist construction tended towards formal socialisation, with accelerated ownership of the means of production and control over the forces of production. By contrast, real socialisation can take place only with the liberation of productive forces, thereby providing substantive resources for socio-economic well-being. This liberation—as argued—began in the second stage, but is beginning to be realised in the third stage, with its emphasis on common prosperity for all. I would like to thank one of the anonymous reviewers for suggesting this perspective.

[29] This brief observation touches on a topic of significant debate in China that would require another paper to address adequately. My comment takes sides in a debate, indicating that “middle class [中产阶层zhongchan jieceng]” in English carries with it a semantic field associated with the growth of capitalism in Europe, especially traders and merchants in towns who came to form a “bourgeoisie” (the term originally meant town-dwellers) that eventually were the agents of bourgeois revolutions. It is due to these connotations with capitalist development that “middle class” in English is inappropriate for socialist construction. Thus, the more neutral “middle-income group [中等收入群体zhongdeng shouru qunti]” is the appropriate term. On this matter, I follow the trend of recent research (Cai 2018; W. Li  2018; 2021; Liu and Liu 2021).

[30] Given the either-or emphasis in the Western tradition, it is notable that Western definitions of socialism focus on the ownership of the means and forces of production and neglect the liberation of such forces. It should also be obvious that such an emphasis arises from contexts where—at least until recently—productive forces have been relatively highly developed.

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Report: CPC and World Marxist Political Parties Forum

On July 28, Friends of Socialist China Co-Editor Keith Bennett joined more than 300 delegates from more than 100 Marxist political parties and organisations from more than 70 countries at the CPC and World Marxist Political Parties Forum held online with the theme, Adapting Marxism to the National Conditions and the Times of the 21st Century, organised by the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

In the opening ceremony, delegates were informed that Comrade Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and President of the People’s Republic of China, had attached importance to the event and his message of greetings to all participants was then read. This was followed by the messages of greetings from Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam; Miguel Díaz-Canel, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Republic of Cuba; and Gennady Zyuganov, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

Xi Jinping pointed out that Marxism is an open ended theory that never ceases to develop. And it can only thrive when adapted to national conditions. Socialism with Chinese characteristics had been created by integrating Marxism with China’s specific conditions and fine traditional culture. Faced with changes unseen in a century, Marxism lights up the way forward for humanity and the Communist Party of China wishes to exchange experiences with Marxist parties worldwide.

In the plenary session, a keynote speech was given by Liu Jianchao, Minister of the CPC International Department, who stressed that the ‘end of history’ will never happen and that the contradiction between socialism and capitalism on a world scale was tipping in favour of socialism.

He was followed by Comrade Pany Yathotou, Member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and Vice-President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; leading comrades from the Cuban and Vietnamese communist parties; Solly Mapaila, the newly-elected General Secretary of the South African Communist Party; Jeronimo de Sousa, General Secretary of the Portuguese Communist Party; and Rossana Cambron, Co-Leader of the Communist Party of the USA.

Following the plenary session, two parallel sessions were held, in which, besides representatives of the CPC, leaders of the following parties presented their contributions:

  • Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova
  • Communist Party of Argentina
  • Communist Party of Belarus
  • Communist Party of Brazil
  • Communist Party of Chile
  • Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia
  • Communist Party of India (Marxist)
  • People’s Party of Kazakhstan
  • Communist Party of Kenya
  • Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan
  • Labor Party of Mexico (PT)
  • Communist Party of Uruguay
  • Communist Party of Australia
  • Communist Party of Bangladesh (Marxist-Leninist)
  • Worker’s Party of Belgium
  • Socialist Party of Egypt
  • Iraqi Communist Party
  • Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center)
  • Palestinian People’s Party
  • And-Jëf/African Party for Democracy and Socialism (Senegal)
  • Vatan (Patriotic) Party of Türkiye
  • Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

This was an extremely important and inspiring event – a potential landmark in strengthening the unity and cohesion of the international communist movement around the advanced experience of the socialist countries and their theoretical innovations. We are pleased to republish the following four reports. The first from the Xinhua News Agency reports on the message sent to the forum by Comrade Xi Jinping. This is followed by a report carried on the website of the CPC International Department and then reports from Nhan Dan, the main newspaper of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and from the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, highlighting their countries’ contributions to the event.

Xi says Marxism shows new vitality in 21st century

First published in Xinhua.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that Marxism has been showing new vitality in the 21st century, calling on all Marxist political parties to make the theory more relevant to the national conditions and the times.

Continue reading Report: CPC and World Marxist Political Parties Forum

Introduction to The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Volume 2

The following article was written by Friends of Socialist China co-editors Keith Bennett and Carlos Martinez on request from our friends at Laika Press. Their new edition of Volume 2 of the Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping can be found on their website.

History will record Deng Xiaoping as one of the great communist leaders of the 20th century; someone who made an indispensable contribution to the development of Chinese socialism and to the global socialist project. Yet this contribution is widely misunderstood among the left in the imperialist countries, much of which shows more ignorance and prejudice than knowledge and understanding when it comes to assessing actually (and formerly) existing socialism.

Deng Xiaoping might be said to suffer particularly in that regard. Left and right are seemingly united in assessing him as the man who led China back to capitalism – their difference confined to whether they see this as a good or a bad thing. Yet the veracity of this myth (not to say gross calumny against a man who devoted his entire life from his teenage years until his death at age 92 to the liberation and uplifting of the Chinese people and the international cause of communism) becomes harder to sustain with each passing day in the face of the steady progress made by socialist China.

In contrast to his appraisal by much of the western left, Deng Xiaoping is loved by hundreds of millions of ordinary people in China – as a man who was devoted to their welfare, did more than anyone else to lift them out of poverty and gave them life chances of which they could not previously have dreamt. Not for nothing is it said that China stood up under Mao Zedong, became rich under Deng Xiaoping and is becoming strong under Xi Jinping.

Viewed internationally, Deng’s wisdom in finding a way to both preserve and advance socialism in China overlapped with the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of socialism in Central and Eastern Europe. Deng Xiaoping therefore rendered not only immortal service to the Chinese people but also to the international working class, oppressed nations and peoples, and humanity in general. In a critical period, it is not an exaggeration to say that Deng Xiaoping, along with his veteran comrades like Chen Yun – as well as the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Laos – literally saved world socialism. As he said in a talk with Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere in 1989, “so long as socialism does not collapse in China, it will always hold its ground in the world.”

Historical continuities

This volume covers the period from 1975-1982. However, there is a gap between October 1975 and May 1977. This is itself significant in that it coincided with the second time that Deng was removed from office in the history of the PRC. Inevitably this finds reflection in the tone of the articles. Prior to his dismissal Deng Xiaoping was working closely with an ever more ailing Premier Zhou Enlai to bring order and stability to the economy and society after nearly a decade of turmoil and upheaval. Chairman Mao was also gravely ill and the ambitious Gang of Four were scheming to seize complete power. It was the Gang of Four’s suppression of popular mourning for the much-loved Premier Zhou when he passed away in February 1976 that allowed them to, in turn, engineer Deng’s second dismissal. However, and as officially reported at the time, it was on Mao Zedong’s proposal that Deng, whilst dismissed from his posts, was not expelled from the party. Despite all the complexities of the time, this should be affirmed as one of Chairman Mao’s last great services to the people of China and the world.

A simplistic reading of modern Chinese history views Deng Xiaoping Theory, Reform and Opening Up and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics as constituting a fundamental break with the politics of the Mao leadership. While it is certainly true that Deng led the introduction of significant changes to which Mao would likely have been opposed, at least in his later years, we contend that these innovations were strongly grounded in the Chinese Marxism to which Mao Zedong had made the single most important contribution. Indeed the slogan so often identified with Deng’s practical approach – seek truth from facts – had been used by Mao as far back as the Sixth National Congress of the CPC in 1938, as Deng himself notes in his 1978 speech Hold High the Banner of Mao Zedong Thought and Adhere to the Principle of Seeking Truth From Facts: “Comrade Mao Zedong wrote a four-word motto for the Central Party School in Yan’an: ‘Seek truth from facts.’ These four words are the quintessence of Mao Zedong Thought.”

The late Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin wrote that the economic take-off of the post-1978 period “would not have been possible without the economic, political and social foundations that had been built up in the preceding period”. One crucially important factor was a relatively stable international environment, in particular China’s improved relations with the leading capitalist countries.

From 1950 the US imposed a tight embargo on China and mobilised its allies to prevent China from taking its rightful place at the United Nations. Then China’s access to the technologically advanced countries was further circumscribed from the late 1950s with the Sino-Soviet split. It was the re-establishment of relations between the US and China from 1972, and China’s accession to the UN in 1971, that transformed China’s international environment and laid the ground for developing trade links with, and absorbing technological expertise from, the capitalist world. Although Opening Up became official policy in 1978, the process can be considered as having begun several years earlier, guided by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.

Premier Zhou had long been vocal about the need for China to catch up with the West in science and technology, in order to raise productivity and improve the material wellbeing of the population. In his last major speech, at the Fourth National People’s Congress in 1975, he spoke of the need to take advantage of the relatively stable international context to “accomplish the comprehensive modernisation of agriculture, industry, national defence and science and technology before the end of the century, so that our national economy will be advancing in the front ranks of the world.”

In Deng’s speech at the Opening Ceremony of the National Conference on Science in 1978 (contained in this volume), he observed: “Modern science and technology are now undergoing a great revolution… Profound changes have taken place and new leaps have been made in almost all areas. A whole range of new sciences and technologies is continuously emerging. Modern science opens the way for the improvement of production techniques and determines the direction of their development.” However, as things stood at the time, there was still an “enormous gap between the level of our science and technology and that of the most advanced countries.” To bridge the gap and push forward China’s program of comprehensive modernization, it was imperative to learn from others.

One must learn from those who are more advanced before he can catch up with and surpass them… Independence does not mean shutting the door on the world, nor does self-reliance mean blind opposition to everything foreign. Science and technology are part of the wealth created in common by all mankind. Every people or country should learn from the advanced science and technology of others… Even after we catch up with the most advanced countries, we shall still have to learn from them in areas where they are particularly strong.

Only by opening up, learning new techniques, improving productivity and realising the Four Modernizations would it finally be possible “to rid our country of poverty and backwardness” and create the conditions for building common prosperity.

Four Cardinal Principles

Deng insisted on the essential political continuity between the era of initial socialist construction and the era of reform, encapsulating this unity in the Four Cardinal Principles:

  1. We must keep to the socialist road.
  2. We must uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat.
  3. We must uphold the leadership of the Communist Party.
  4. We must uphold Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.

In his speech Uphold the four cardinal principles, he put forward the formula that “socialism and socialism alone can save China,” warning that if China drops its commitment to socialism, it will “inevitably retrogress to semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism.”

Upholding the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leadership of the Communist Party – that is, upholding the principles of socialist democracy rather than capitalist democracy – provides the fundamental guarantee for continuing along the path of socialism. The Chinese leadership well understood the risks involved in encouraging private capital, foreign investment, and “letting some get wealthy first.” Only by sticking to socialist democracy, to the rule of the working classes, is it possible to restrict the power of capital, to protect the overall interests of the masses, and to prevent a regression to capitalism.

Reiterating the continued relevance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, Deng highlights the fundamental correctness of the Chinese Revolution, its socialist path and its anti-imperialist strategy. His remarks were made in a context where there was wide discussion of mistakes the party had made during the last years of Mao’s life, particularly during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). By upholding Mao Zedong Thought, Deng was warning against what Xi Jinping has referred to as “historical nihilism” – painting a distorted and unnecessarily negative picture of the first decades of the People’s Republic. Deng asserts: “Despite our errors, in the past three decades we have made progress on a scale which old China could not achieve in hundreds or even thousands of years.” In another speech in this volume, Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future, he appraises Mao’s record in the following terms:

The great contributions of Comrade Mao in the course of long revolutionary struggles will never fade… It is no exaggeration to say that were it not for Chairman Mao there would be no New China.

In a fascinating 1980 interview with the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, Deng again insists that Mao’s “contributions are primary and his mistakes secondary”, and that “we will forever keep Chairman Mao’s portrait on Tiananmen Gate as a symbol of our country”. Poignantly, he adds: “We will not do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin.”

Relations between fraternal parties

Deng Xiaoping also spearheaded reforms and changes to the party’s international work, adopting a broader and more flexible approach. In his talk with senior party officials on May 31 1980, published here as An Important Principle for Handling Relations Between Fraternal Parties, Deng began by stating:

When a Communist Party comments on the actions of a foreign fraternal Party, it may often judge them according to some rigid formula or established pattern. Facts have shown that this approach gets one nowhere. Conditions vary greatly from country to country, the level of political awareness varies from people to people, and the class relations and the alignment of class forces in one country are vastly different from those in another. How can a fixed formula be applied mechanically despite all these differences?

Specifically, China had, at that time, started to resume relations with major communist parties that were considered ‘Eurocommunist’ and he argued:

Similarly, the correctness of Eurocommunism should not be judged by outsiders: it is not for others to write articles affirming or denying it. It should be judged by the European Parties and peoples themselves, and in the final analysis their own practice will provide the answer. We can’t criticize people when they conduct experiments in line with their own conditions. Even if they are wrong, it is up to them to sum up their own experience and try a different path.

This article certainly struck a chord with one of us, as he made his first visit to China just under a year later and was told by the Party International Department: “As for the internal policies of these parties [the communist parties of Spain and Italy] we do not want to say very much…, but we deeply feel that the question of how to make a revolution in the countries of Western Europe remains an unanswered one.”

Conclusion

Comrades! While building our own country, our working class must always keep in mind the proletariat and the oppressed people and nations of the world. We must go on strengthening our unity with the workers and revolutionary people the world over and support their struggles against imperialism, colonialism and hegemonism as well as their struggles to win or safeguard national independence and to make social progress. We must make our contribution to the emancipation of the working class throughout the world and to the progress of all mankind.

Depending on how you measure, China is now the world’s largest or second-largest economy. It is the only country to have jumped from ‘low’ to ‘high’ in the Human Development Index since the measure was launched in 1990. China has successfully eliminated extreme poverty, is the global leader in renewable energy, has become a science and technology powerhouse, and is a key driving force in support of development throughout the Global South. Such remarkable successes are testament to Deng Xiaoping’s vision.

As with other maligned revolutionaries, the greatest antidote to the slanders is to read and learn what they actually stood for, said and wrote. In publishing the works of Deng Xiaoping, and other great revolutionary leaders, and making them widely available and affordable, Laika Press is to be warmly congratulated and supported.

Keith Bennett and Carlos Martinez

London, July 2022

On the sinicization of Marxism

We are very pleased to publish (for the first time in English) this detailed and insightful article by Carlos Miguel Pereira Hernández, Cuba’s ambassador to China. Comrade Pereira delves into the meaning of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, carefully noting that it should be understood on its own terms, rather than being compared against a one-size-fits-all model: “There is no unique definition of socialism, and any analysis on the issue must start by accepting that visions of it are diverse.”

Pereira analyses the trajectory of sinicized Marxism-Leninism, noting that this begins not with the Reform and Opening Up period from 1978 but with the early development of the Chinese Revolution. The author cites Mao Zedong’s 1956 speech, On the Ten Major Relationships, as a turning point in the development of a specifically Chinese socialism that rejected the “mechanistic copying of foreign models.”

Pereira does not shy away from the contradictions of modern Chinese socialism, including the existence of a capitalist class, a large private sector, and stark inequality. The danger always exists that these by-products of market reforms will corrode the economic foundations of socialism. Yet, the author notes, China’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the fact that “political criteria were weighted above market mechanisms”, highlight the reality that the capitalist class is not the ruling class. The same is true of the government’s commitment to poverty alleviation and its renewed emphasis on common prosperity.

Comrade Pereira concludes that “the current model in China, including the corrections introduced at each stage, remains on the path to socialism”, and indeed that sinicized Marxism deserves to be widely studied, as many of its innovations may well have relevance beyond China.

This article was first published in Spanish – La sinización del marxismo, las ciencias sociales y la cuestión del modelo propio – in the Cuban journal Política Internacional. The English translation was kindly provided to us by the author.

ABSTRACT

The present analysis begins with a call for attention to the discussion about the existence or not of a “Chinese Marxism”, that is, the sinicization of Marxism, an officially coined formulation within the Chinese narrative and understood as the adaptation of the Marxism to the conditions and particularities of China and which comes to life in the notion of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The above-mentioned element is key to understand, and even to clarify, how both nature and the national peculiarities of each country affect – or might affect – and if that gives rise to the existence of their own models of socialist construction.

The analysis focuses on the period from 1978 to the present, which coincides with the beginning and development of the reform process, considered by Chinese sources as a “driving force” for the improvement and development of the socialist system within the Chinese conditions. For this, it has been considered essential to provide criteria that allow establishing, without any doubt, that the current model in the Asian country –which includes the corrections introduced at each stage– remains on the road to socialism; also to verify how the political narrative produced and reproduced by Western theoretical development has been contrasted with another Chinese-own narrative, based on the concepts that are analyzed in this work and that reflect the important role of social sciences and theoretical and academic debate as an important regularity of the Chinese socialist process.

Keywords: China/Reform/Socialism/Marxism/Social science

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Why doesn’t more of the Western left support the People’s Republic of China?

At a webinar of the International Manifesto Group on the theme of Anti-imperialism and the Western Left, Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez gave this talk about the Western left’s failure to meaningfully engage with Chinese socialism.

The focus of my presentation is: why doesn’t more of the Western left support the People’s Republic of China? Why doesn’t more of the Western left engage in a serious way with Chinese socialism?

There are lots of things about modern China that seem worthy of support, from a socialist point of view.

Poverty alleviation. Reducing poverty is a decidedly leftist objective. If there was no poverty under capitalism – if there were no homeless, no people without sufficient food to eat, without access to education and healthcare, without work or the possibility of earning an income – most people on the left would probably find something better to do with their time than struggling for a new society.

So the fact that China has achieved so much in the realm of poverty alleviation should obviously be something that we study and celebrate.

Not everyone trusts the Chinese government’s statistics, not everyone is convinced by the claim that China in 2020 eliminated extreme poverty. Fine. But it is absolutely beyond question that, in the period from 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, the Chinese people have experienced an unprecedented and extraordinary improvement in their living standards and their level of human development.

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Domenico Losurdo: Reflections on the transition from capitalism to socialism

We are pleased to republish from Workers Today this very important article by the late Domenico Losurdo (1941-2018), a distinguished Italian Marxist scholar and communist militant. Losurdo outlines three distinct waves of social experiment in the young Soviet state in the 15 years following the October Revolution and makes a comparative analysis with the development of the People’s Republic of China, with particular reference to the post-Mao period. Both theoretical and empirical in his approach, Lusurdo draws on the work of Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and, interestingly, Antonio Gramsci to formulate and outline his thesis whilst further illustrating it with reference to the work of scholars and journalists, both Marxist and non-Marxist. His conclusion should serve as a watchword:

“It is very clear which weapons will be used to fight in the country that has emerged from the greatest anti-colonial revolution in history to engage in a long-term process of building a post-capitalist and socialist society. Which side will the Western left take?”

Abstract

If we analyse the first 15 years of Soviet Russia, we see three social experiments. The first experiment, based on the equal distribution of poverty, suggests the “universal asceticism” and “rough egalitarianism” criticised by the Communist Manifesto. We can now understand the decision to move to Lenin’s New Economic Policy, which was often interpreted as a return to capitalism. The increasing threat of war pushed Stalin into sweeping economic collectivisation. The third experiment produced a very advanced welfare state but ended in failure: in the last years of the Soviet Union, it was characterised by mass absenteeism and disengagement in the workplace; this stalled productivity, and it became hard to find any application of the principle that Marx said should preside over socialism — remuneration according to the quantity and quality of work delivered.

The history of China is different: Mao believed that, unlike “political capital,” the economic capital of the bourgeoisie should not be subject to total expropriation, at least until it can serve the development of the national economy. After the tragedy of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, it took Deng Xiaoping to emphasise that socialism implies the development of the productive forces. Chinese market socialism has achieved extraordinary success.

Soviet Russia and Various Experiments in Post-Capitalism

Nowadays it is common to talk about the restoration of capitalism in China as resulting from the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. But what is the basis for this judgment? Is there a more or less coherent vision of socialism that can be contrasted with the reality of the current socio-economic relations in China today? Let’s take a quick look at the history of attempts to build a post-capitalist society. If we analyse the first 15 years of Soviet Russia, we see war communism, then the New Economic Policy (NEP), and finally the complete collectivisation of the economy (including agriculture) in quick succession. These were three totally different experiments, but all of them were an attempt to build a post-capitalist society. Why should we be shocked that, in the course of the more than 80 years that followed these experiments, other variations like market socialism and Chinese socialism appeared?

Let’s concentrate for now on Soviet Russia: which of the three experiments mentioned is closest to the socialism espoused by Marx and Engels? War communism was greeted by a devout French Catholic, Pierre Pascal, then in Moscow, as a “unique and intoxicating performance […] The rich are gone: only the poor and the very poor […] high and low salaries draw closer. The right to property is reduced to personal effects.” [1] This author read the widespread poverty and privation not as wretchedness caused by the war, to be overcome as quickly as possible; in his eyes, as long as they are distributed more or less equally, poverty and want are a condition of purity and moral excellence; on the contrary, affluence and wealth are sins. It is a vision that we can call populist, one that was criticised with great precision by the Communist Manifesto: there is “nothing easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist coat of paint”; the “first movements of the proletariat” often feature claims in the name of “universal asceticism and a rough egalitarianism.” [2] Lenin’s orientation was the opposite of Pascal’s, as he was far from the view that socialism would be the collectivisation of poverty, a more or less egalitarian distribution of privation. In October 1920 (“The Tasks of the Youth Associations”) Lenin declared, “We want to transform Russia from a poor and needy country to a rich country.” First, the country needed to be modernised and wired with electricity; therefore, it required “organised work” and “conscious and disciplined work,” overcoming anarchy in the workplace, with a methodical assimilation of the “latest technical achievements,” if necessary, by importing them from the most advanced capitalist countries. [3]

A few years later, the NEP took over from war communism. It was essential to overcome the desperate mass poverty and starvation that followed the catastrophe of World War I and the civil war, and to restart the economy and develop the productive forces. This was necessary not only to improve the living conditions of the people and to broaden the social basis of consensus on revolutionary power; it was also about avoiding an increase in Russia’s lag in development compared to the more advanced capitalist countries, which could affect the national security of the country emerging from the October Revolution, not to mention it being surrounded and besieged by the capitalist powers. To achieve these objectives, the Soviet government also made use of private initiative and a (limited) part of the capitalist economy; it used “bourgeois” specialists who were rewarded generously, and it sought to take advanced technology and capital, which were guaranteed attractive returns, from the West. The NEP had positive results: production started up again, and a certain development of the productive forces began to take place. Overall, the situation in Soviet Russia improved noticeably: on the international level it did not worsen; rather, Russia’s delay in development started to decrease compared to the successful capitalist countries. Domestically, the living conditions of the masses improved significantly. Precisely because social wealth increased, there were more than just “the poor and the very poor,” as in the war communism celebrated by Pierre Pascal; desperate hunger and starvation disappeared, but social inequalities increased.

These inequalities in Soviet Russia provoked a widespread and intense feeling of betrayal of the original ideals. Pierre Pascal was not the only one wanting to abandon the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; there were literally tens of thousands of Bolshevik workers who tore up their party cards in disgust at the NEP, which they re-named the “New Extortion from the Proletariat.” In the 1940s, a rank-and-file militant very effectively described the spiritual atmosphere prevailing in the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution — the atmosphere arose from the horror of war caused by imperialist competition in plundering the colonies in order to conquer markets and acquire raw materials, as well as by capitalists searching for profit and super-profit:

We young Communists had all grown up in the belief that money was done away with once and for all. […] If money was reappearing, wouldn’t rich people reappear too? Weren’t we on the slippery slope that led back to capitalism? [4]

Therefore, one can understand the scandal and a persistent feeling of repugnance for the market and the commodity economy at the introduction of the NEP; it was above all the growing danger of war that caused the abandonment of the NEP and the removal of every trace of the private economy. The wholesale collectivisation of the country’s agriculture provoked a civil war that was fought ruthlessly by both sides. And yet, after this horrible tragedy, the Soviet economy seemed to proceed marvellously: the rapid development of modern industry was interwoven with the construction of a welfare state that guaranteed the economic and social rights of citizens in a way that was unprecedented. This, however, was a model that fell into crisis after a couple of decades. With the transition from great historical crisis to a more “normal” period (“peaceful coexistence”), the masses’ enthusiasm and commitment to production and work weakened and then disappeared. In the last years of its existence, the Soviet Union was characterised by massive absenteeism and disengagement in the workplace: not only did production development stagnate, but there was no longer any application of the principle that Marx said drove socialism — remuneration according to the quantity and quality of work delivered. You could say that during the final stage of Soviet society, the dialectic of capitalist society that Marx described in The Poverty of Philosophy had been overturned:

While inside the modern factory the division of labour is meticulously regulated by the authority of the entrepreneur, modern society has no other rule or authority to distribute the work, except for free competition. […] One can also determine, as a general principle, that the less the authority presides over the division of labour inside the society, the more the division of labour develops inside of the factory, and it is placed under the authority of just one person. Thus the authorities in the factory and in society, in relation to the division of labour, are inversely related to each other. [5]

In the last years of the Soviet Union, the tight control exercised by the political powers over civil society coincided with a substantial amount of anarchy in workplaces. It was the reversal of the dialectic of capitalist society, but the overthrow of the capitalist society’s dialectic was not socialism and, therefore, it produced a weak economic order unable to resist the ideological and political offensives of the capitalist-imperialist world.

The Peculiarity of the Chinese Experience

China’s history is different. Although the Communist Party of China seized power at the national level in 1949, 20 years earlier it had already started to exercise its power in one region or another, regions whose size and population were comparable to those of a small or medium-sized European country. For much of these 85 years in power, China, partly or totally ruled by the communists, was characterised by the coexistence of different forms of economy and property. This was how Edgar Snow described the situation in the late 1930s in the “liberated” areas:

To guarantee success at these tasks it was necessary for the Reds, even from the earliest days, to begin some kind of economic construction. […] Soviet economy in the Northwest was a curious mixture of private capitalism, state capitalism, and primitive socialism. Private enterprise and industry were permitted and encouraged, and private transactions dealing in the land and its products were allowed with restrictions. At the same time the state owned and exploited enterprises such as oil wells, salt wells, and coal mines, and it traded in cattle, hides, salt, wool, cotton, paper, and other raw materials. But it did not establish a monopoly in these articles and in all of them private enterprises could, and to some extent did, compete. A third kind of economy was created by the establishment of cooperatives, in which the government and the masses participated as partners, competing not only with private capitalism but also with state capitalism! [6]

This picture is confirmed by a modern historian: in Yan’an, the city where Mao Zedong directed the struggle against Japanese imperialism and promoted the construction of a new China, the Communist Party of China did not pretend “to control the whole of the base area’s economy.” It rather supervised a “significant private economy,” which also included “large private landholdings.” [7]

In an essay in January 1940 (“On the New Democracy”), Mao Zedong clarified the meaning of the revolution taking place at that time:

Although such a revolution in a colonial and semi-colonial country is still fundamentally bourgeois-democratic in its social character during its first stage or first step, and although its objective mission is to clear the path for the development of capitalism, it is no longer a revolution of the old type led by the bourgeoisie with the aim of establishing a capitalist society and a state under bourgeois dictatorship. It belongs to the new type of revolution led by the proletariat with the aim, in the first stage, of establishing a new-democratic society and a state under the joint dictatorship of all the revolutionary classes. Thus this revolution actually serves the purpose of clearing a still wider path for the development of socialism. [8]

This was a model characterised, at the economic level, by the coexistence of different forms of ownership; at the level of political power, by a dictatorship exercised by the “revolutionary classes” as well as the leadership of the Communist Party of China. It is a pattern confirmed 17 years later, although in the meantime the People’s Republic of China was founded, in a speech on January 18, 1957 (“Talks at a Conference of Secretaries of Provincial, Municipal and Autonomous Regions Party Committees”):

As for the charge that our urban policy has deviated to the Right, this seems to be the case, as we have undertaken to provide for the capitalists and pay them a fixed rate of interest for a period of seven years. What is to be done after the seven years? That is to be decided according to the circumstances prevailing then. It is better to leave the matter open, that is, to go on giving them a certain amount in fixed interest. At this small cost we are buying over this class. […] By buying over this class, we have deprived them of their political capital and kept their mouths shut. […] Thus political capital will not be in their hands but in ours. We must deprive them of every bit of their political capital and continue to do so until not one jot is left to them. Therefore, neither can our urban policy be said to have deviated to the Right. [9]

It is, therefore, a matter of distinguishing between the economic expropriation and the political expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Only the latter should be carried out to the end, while the former, if not contained within clear limits, risks undermining the development of the productive forces. Unlike “political capital,” the bourgeoisie’s economic capital should not be subject to total expropriation, at least as long as it serves the development of the national economy and thus, indirectly, the cause of socialism.

After taking off in the second half of the 1920s, this model revealed a remarkable continuity and offered great economic vitality before 1949 to the “liberated” areas governed by the communists and then the People’s Republic of China as a whole. The dramatic moment of breakthrough came with the Great Leap Forward of 1958–59 and with the Cultural Revolution unleashed in 1966. The coexistence of different forms of ownership and the use of material incentives were radically thrown on the table. There was an illusion of accelerating economic development through calls for mass mobilisation and mass enthusiasm, but this approach and these attempts failed miserably. Moreover, the struggle of everyone against everyone heightened the anarchy in factories and production sites.

The anarchy was so widespread and deep-rooted that it did not disappear immediately with the reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping. For some time, customs continued in the public sector as described by a witness and Western scholar, “even the last attendant […], if he wants to, can decide to do nothing, stay home for a year or two and still receive his salary at the end of the month.” The “culture of laziness” also infected the expanding private sector of the economy. “The former employees of the State […] arrive late, then they read the newspaper, go to the canteen a half-hour early, leave the office an hour early,” and they were often absent for family reasons, for example, “because my wife is sick.” And the executives and technicians who tried to introduce discipline and efficiency into the workplace were forced to face not only resistance and the moral outrage of the employees (who considered it infamy to impose a fine on an absent worker caring for his wife), but sometimes even threats and violence from below. [10]

Thus, there was a paradox. After distinguishing itself for decades for its peculiar history and its commitment to stimulating production through competition not only between individuals but also between different forms of ownership, the China that arose from the Cultural Revolution resembled the Soviet Union to an extraordinary degree in its last years of existence: the socialist principle of compensation based on the amount and quality of work delivered was substantially liquidated, and disaffection, disengagement, absenteeism and anarchy reigned in the workplace. Before being ousted from power, the “Gang of Four” attempted to justify the economic stagnation, debating the populist reason for a socialism that is poor but beautiful, the populist “socialism” that in the early years of Soviet Russia was dear to Pierre Pascal, the fervent Catholic whom we already know.

Then populism became the target of Deng Xiaoping’s criticism. He called on the Marxists to realise “that poverty is not socialism, that socialism means eliminating poverty.” He wanted one thing to be absolutely clear: “Unless you are developing the productive forces and raising people’s living standards, you cannot say you are building socialism.” No, “there can be no communism with pauperism, or socialism with pauperism. So to get rich is no sin.” [11] Deng Xiaoping had the historic merit of understanding that socialism had nothing to do with the more or less egalitarian distribution of poverty and privation. In the eyes of Marx and Engels, socialism was superior to capitalism not only because it ensured a more equitable distribution of resources but also, and especially, because it ensured a faster and more equal development of social wealth, and to achieve this goal, socialism stimulated competition by affirming and putting into practice the principle of remuneration according to the quantity and quality of work delivered.

Deng Xiaoping’s reforms reintroduced in China the model that we already know, although giving it new coherence and radicalism. The fact remains that the coexistence of different forms of ownership was counterbalanced by strict state control directed by the Communist Party of China. If we analyse the history of China, not beginning with the founding of the People’s Republic, but as early as the first “liberated” areas being set up and governed by communists, we will find out that it was not China of the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, but China in the years of the Great Leap Forward and of the Cultural Revolution that was the exception or the anomaly.

Marxism or Populism? A Confrontation of Long Duration

Well beyond the borders of Russia and China, during the twentieth century and even now, populism influenced and still negatively influences the reading of the great revolutions that radically changed the face of the world. In this sense, we can say that, after having played a part as an essential feature of the twentieth century, the conflict between populism and Marxism is far from over.

Pascal condemned the abandonment of war communism, or the society in which there are “only the poor and the very poor,” and that is precisely why it was free of the tensions and rifts caused by inequality and social polarisation. The attitude taken by fervent Christians at that time in Moscow was not in any way confined to Soviet Russia. Traces of populism can be felt in the young Ernst Bloch. In 1918, when he published the first edition of Spirit of Utopia, he called on the Soviets to effect a “transformation of power into love” and to put an end not only to “every private economy,” but also to any “money economy” and with it the “mercantile values that consecrate whatever is most evil in man.” [12] Here the populist trend was intertwined with Messianism: no attention was paid to the task of rebuilding the economy and developing the productive forces in a country destroyed by war and having a history marked by recurrent and devastating famines. The horror at the carnage of World War I stimulated the dream of a community that is satisfied with the scarce material resources available and that only in this circumstance, freed from worrying about wealth and power, can people live shielded from the “money economy” and instead live in “love.”

When he published the second edition of Spirit of Utopia in 1923, Bloch believed that it was appropriate to delete the populist and Messianic passages, as previously mentioned. However, the state of mind and the vision that inspired them did not vanish either in the Soviet Union or outside of it. The transition to NEP found perhaps its most passionate or sentimental critics among the militants as well as among Western communist leaders. As for them, in the “Political Report” he presented to the XI Congress of the Communist Party held on March 27, 1922, Lenin sarcastically wrote:

Seeing that we were withdrawing, some of them scattered, childishly and shamefully, even with tears, as happened at the last large session of the Executive Committee of the International Communist Party. Motivated by the best communist sentiments and the most ardent communist aspirations, some friends burst into tears. [13]

Antonio Gramsci had a very different attitude as early as the October Revolution, which he expressed in this way:

Collectivism of poverty and suffering will be the principle. But those very conditions of poverty and suffering would be inherited from a bourgeois regime. Capitalism could not immediately do more than collectivism did in Russia. Today, it would do even less, because it would have immediately run afoul of an unhappy, frantic proletariat, now unable to bear for others to endure the pain and bitterness that the economic hardship would have brought. […] The suffering that will come after peace will be tolerated only because the workers feel that it is their will and their determination to work to suppress it as quickly as possible. [14]

In this context, the war communism about to prevail in Soviet Russia was at the same time legitimised tactically and delegitimised strategically, legitimised immediately and delegitimised with an eye to the future. The “collectivism of poverty and suffering” is justified by the specific conditions prevailing in Russia at the time: capitalism would not be able to do anything better. It was understood, however, that the privation had to be overcome as quickly as possible.

Precisely for this reason, Gramsci had no difficulty in recognising himself in the NEP, the meaning of which he made sharply clear in his October 1926 stance: the reality of the Soviet Union put us in the presence of a phenomenon “never before seen in history.” A politically “dominant” class “as a whole” finds itself “in living conditions inferior to certain elements and strata of the [politically] dominated and dependent class.” The masses of people who continued to suffer a life of hardship were confused by the spectacle of “the NEPman dressed in fur who has at his disposal all the goods of the earth.” And yet this should not constitute grounds for a scandal or feelings of repugnance, because the proletariat, as it cannot gain power, also cannot even keep power if it is not capable of sacrificing individual and immediate interests to the “general and permanent interests of the class.” [15] Those who read the NEP as synonymous with a return to capitalism committed two serious errors: ignoring the issue of the fight against mass poverty and thus the development of the productive forces; they also wrongly identified the economically privileged class and the politically dominant class.

A reading of the NEP not unlike that seen in Gramsci came from another great intellectual of the twentieth century. He was Walter Benjamin, who, after returning from a trip to Moscow in 1927, summed up his impressions:

In a capitalist society, power and money have become of equal dimension. Any given amount of money can be converted into a well-defined portion of power and the exchange value of all power is a calculable entity. […] The Soviet state has interrupted this osmosis of money and power. The Party, of course, reserves power for itself; it does, however, leave the money to the NEPman. [16]

The latter, however, underwent a “terrible social isolation.” For Benjamin, too, there was no correspondence between economic wealth and political power. The NEP had nothing to do with the restoration of bourgeois and capitalist power. Soviet Russia could not help but engage in the reconstruction of the economy and the development of the productive forces. The task was made more difficult by the persistence of customs that were not suited to a modern industrial society. In Moscow, Benjamin was a direct witness to a very instructive display:

Not even in the Russian capital is there, in spite of all the “rationalisation,” a sense of the value of time. The “trud,” the Trade Union Institute of Work, by means of wall posters, waged […] a campaign for punctuality […] “time is money”; to give credence to such a strange rallying cry, they had to draw on Lenin’s authority in the posters. So, this mentality is foreign to Russians. Their playful instinct prevails over everything […] If, for example, a movie scene is being shot in the street, they forget where they are going and why, they queue up behind the crew for hours and arrive at work befuddled. [17]

Pascal also witnessed the developments in Soviet Russia, forming an opinion of strong condemnation: now in Moscow and in the rest of the country, everything revolved around the question of whether “industrialisation must be a little faster or a little slower,” around the problem of “how to get the necessary money.” The consequences of this new approach, which put aside “every revolutionary purpose,” were devastating: yes, “on the material level we approach Americanisation, a great development of national wealth,” but at what cost? “The docile mass became a slave to it, to its work, to its exploitation. It produces, there is an economic recovery, but the revolution is well buried.” [18]

The great Austrian writer Joseph Roth, not involved in the communist movement, reached the same conclusions. When visiting the land of the Soviets between September 1926 and January 1927, he expressed his disappointment at the “Americanisation” in progress. “They despise America, meaning big soulless capitalism; the country where gold is God. But they admire America, meaning progress, the electric iron, the hygiene and the waterworks.” In conclusion, “This is a modern Russia, technically advanced, with American ambitions. This is no longer Russia.” [19] The “spiritual void” had opened in a country that initially aroused many hopes. [20] The popular inspiration for these positions was obvious: as expressions of betrayal of the original revolutionary inspiration and of a drift toward a philistine and vulgar worldview, they pointed to the desire to improve living conditions and the pursuit of comfort (or of a minimum of comfort).

As Pascal did, Roth also expressed his distaste for the “Americanisation” under way. These were the years in which the Bolsheviks engaged in the reconstruction and development of the economy to try to learn from the most advanced capitalist countries and the United States in particular. In March and April 1918 (“The Immediate Tasks of Soviet Power”) Lenin noted that “compared to workers in the most advanced nations, the Russian is a bad worker”; therefore, he must “learn to work,” assimilating critically the “rich scientific achievements” of the “Taylor system” developed and implemented in the North American Republic. [21] On the same wavelength, Bukharin proclaimed in 1923, “We need to add Americanism to Marxism.” [22] The following year, Stalin made a significant appeal to the Bolshevik cadres: if they really wanted to be at the height of “principles of Leninism,” they should try to weave “Russian revolutionary impulses” with “the practical American approach.” [23] “Americanism” and “the practical American approach” were here synonyms for the development of productive forces and the escape from poverty or scarcity: socialism is not the equal sharing of poverty or deprivation, but the definitive and widespread overcoming of these conditions.

From outside of Russia, Gramsci countered populism with particular rigour and consistency. As we know, from the beginning he stressed the need for a rapid end to this “collectivism of poverty and suffering.” It was a political position with a wider theoretical vision as its foundation. L’Ordine Nuovo (The New Order) — the weekly he founded in the wake of the October Revolution in Russia — plus the movement to occupy factories in Italy, asked the revolutionary workers to fight for wages and thus for a more equitable distribution of social wealth, but also and above all to be “producers” taking “control of production” and the “development of work plans.” In doing so, in order also to promote the development of the productive forces, the revolutionary workers must know how to make use of the “most advanced industrial technology” that “(in a sense) is independent from the method of appropriating the assets produced,” that is, it got its autonomy from capitalism or socialism. [24] Not coincidentally, between October and November 1919, L’Ordine Nuovo devoted several articles to Taylorism, analysed beginning with the latest analysis of the distinction between “rich scientific achievements” (mentioned by Lenin) and their capitalist use. [25] In this sense, the Prison Notebooks later observed that already L’Ordine Nuovo had claimed its “Americanism.” [26] It was the Americanism that Lenin, Bukharin and Stalin directly or indirectly referenced.

And it should be clear that this is an Americanism that does not in any way rule out a judgment and clear condemnation of US capitalism and imperialism. In Gramsci’s eyes, this was a country that, despite its professions of democratic faith, imposed slavery on blacks for a long time and that, even after the Civil War, was characterised by a terrorist regime of white supremacy, as shown by “lynching of blacks by crowds incited by atrocious merchants dispossessed of human flesh.” [27] That terrorism was also manifested in terms of foreign policy: The North American Republic threatened to deprive the Russians of the grain necessary for their survival and, therefore, to starve to death the people who felt the pull of the October Revolution and were tempted to follow its example.

The “Americanism” understood as attention reserved for the problem of development of the productive forces pushed Gramsci, in the early 1930s, to greet enthusiastically the launching of the first Soviet five-year plan: the economic and industrial development of the country that emerged from the October Revolution was proof that, far from stimulating “fatalism and passivity,” in fact, “the concept of historical materialism […] gives rise to a flowering of initiatives and enterprises that astonishes many observers.” [28] Materialism and Marxism showed the ability to influence reality concretely, not only inspiring revolutions like the one that occurred in Russia but also promoting the growth of social wealth and freeing the masses from centuries of poverty and deprivation.

More disappointed than ever, even outraged by the developments in Soviet Russia, however, was Simone Weil, who in 1932 proceeded to a final showdown with the country which she had initially looked to with sympathy and hope: Soviet Russia had ended up taking America, American efficiency, productivity and “Taylorism” as its models. There could no longer be any doubts.

The fact that Stalin, on this issue, which is at the centre of the conflict between capital and labour, has abandoned the views of Marx and has been seduced by the capitalist system in its most perfect form, shows that the USSR is still quite far from having a working-class culture. [29]

In fact, the position taken here had nothing to do with Marx and Engels: according to the Communist Manifesto, capitalism is destined to be overcome because, after developing the productive forces with unprecedented scope and speed, it became an obstacle to their further development, as confirmed by the recurrent crises of overproduction. This deeply Christian French philosopher, also inclined to populism, recognised the country that emerged from the October Revolution only up to the stage of more or less equal distribution of poverty or deprivation; later, in addition to Soviet Russia, Weil also broke with Marx and Engels.

Global Inequality and Inequality in China

Populism continues to make its presence felt more than ever in the dismissive judgment that the Western left passes on today’s China. It is true that the reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping spurred an economic boom unprecedented in history, with hundreds and thousands of millions of people liberated from poverty, but this is basically irrelevant for the populists.

Did the elimination of desperate and mass poverty happen at the same time as the worsening inequality? The answer to that question is less obvious than it may appear at first glance. Throughout history, the communist parties have won power only in countries that are relatively undeveloped economically and technologically; for this reason, they had to fight against not one but two types of inequality: 1) inequality existing on the global scale between the most and least developed countries; and 2) the inequality existing within each individual country. Only if we take into account both sides of the struggle can we adequately take stock of policy reform. With regard to the first type of inequality, there are no doubts: internationally, global inequality is levelling out sharply. Yes, China is gradually catching up to the most advanced Western capitalist countries. It is a turning point!

In the last years of the twentieth century, a prominent American political scientist noted that if the process of industrialisation and modernisation that started with Deng Xiaoping is to be successful, “China’s emergence as a major power will dwarf any comparable phenomena during the last half of the second millennium.” [30] About 15 years later, again with reference to the prodigious development of this great Asian country, a no less illustrious British historian noted, “What we are living through now is the end of 500 years of Western predominance.” [31] The two authors cited here share the same, emphatic, view of timing. About five centuries ago, the discovery/conquest of America took place. In other words, the extraordinarily rapid rise of China is ending or promises to end the “Colombian epoch,” a period characterised by extreme inequality in international relations: the distinct lead held by the West in economics, technology and military might has allowed it to subdue and plunder the rest of the world for centuries.

The fight against global inequality is part of the struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism. Mao understood this well and, in a speech given on September 16, 1949 (“The Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of History”) warned that Washington wants China reduced to relying “on US flour, in other words, to become a US colony.” [32] In fact, the newly founded People’s Republic of China became the target of a deadly embargo imposed by the United States. Its objectives are clear from studies done by the Truman administration and the confessions and statements of its leaders. It started from the premise that the type of measure that could defeat and oust the communist government “is economic rather than military or political.” And so, they needed to ensure that China suffered or continued to suffer the scourge of a “general standard of living around and below the subsistence level”; Washington felt committed to causing “economic backwardness” and “cultural lag” and leading a country of “desperate needs” to “a catastrophic economic situation,” “toward disaster” and “collapse.” [33] At the White House, one president succeeds another, but the embargo remains, and it is so ruthless as to include medicines, tractors and fertilisers. [34] In short: in the early 1960s, a collaborator of the Kennedy administration, Walt W. Rostow, pointed out that, because of this policy, the economic development of China was delayed for at least “tens of years.” [35]

There is no doubt: Deng Xiaoping’s reforms greatly stimulated the fight against global inequality and thus placed the economic (and political) independence of China on a solid footing. High technology is no longer a monopoly of the West, either. Now we see the prospect of overcoming the international division of labour, which for centuries has subjected people outside the West to a servile or semi-servile condition or relegated them in the bottom of the labour market. It is thus outlining a worldwide revolution that the Western left does not seem to be noticing. Rationally, they consider a strike obtaining better wages or better working conditions in a factory as an integral part of the process of emancipation, or they discuss it in the context of the patriarchal division of labour. It is very strange, then, that the struggle to end the oppressive international division of labour that was established through armed force during the “Colombian epoch” is considered something alien to the process of emancipation.

In any case, those who condemn China today as a whole due to its inequalities would do well to consider that Deng Xiaoping also promoted his reform policies as a part of the fight against planetary inequality. In a conversation on October 10, 1978, he noted that the technology “gap” was expanding compared to more advanced countries; these were developing “with tremendous speed,” while China could not keep up in any way. [36] And, 10 years later, “High technology is advancing at a tremendous pace”; so that there was a risk that “the gap between China and other countries will grow wider.” [37]

Quantitative and Qualitative Inequality

Drawing attention to the importance of global inequality does not mean losing sight of the second type of inequality. So, what is happening with China’s existing inequality? Have the reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping escalated it to an intolerable point?

Before answering these questions, we should make a preliminary observation: both the Soviet NEP and the new Chinese course were preceded by poverty and shortages acute and widespread enough to cause large-scale starvation; this situation had to be ended and a repetition had to be prevented, and this marked the turning point within Soviet Russia and China. But how is inequality fought in such a desperate economic situation? In the quantitative sense, the distribution of the scarce available resources can be inspired by emphasising egalitarianism, so as to try to feed individuals, families and villages uniformly; however, the overall inadequacy of the available resources does not change, nor does the differing degree of need (the weakest individuals succumb more easily than the others); in such conditions, starvation can be contained but not eliminated. Well, the piece of bread that allows the most fortunate to survive, as modest and reduced in terms of quantity as it may be, nevertheless sanctions an absolute inequality in terms of quality, the absolute inequality that exists between life and death. In other words, when scarcity reaches an extreme level, the struggle against inequality can only be tackled effectively by focusing on the development of the productive forces. That is, even with regard to the second type of inequality, the inequality within a single country, Deng Xiaoping’s reforms eliminated once and for all the absolute qualitative inequality inherent in starvation and the risk of starvation.

Of course, once this scourge has been ended once and for all, it is time to address the problem of the struggle against quantitative inequality, as well as to achieve what Deng Xiaoping called “common prosperity.” [38] There is no doubt: the achievement of this goal is still far away. According to the Gini coefficient, which measures income distribution within a single country, social polarisation has reached alarming levels in China. We should of course pay close attention to the Gini coefficient, but without overemphasising its significance. Despite its utility, it has fundamental limitations: not only does it not distinguish between the two types of inequality (the global and the local), but it also tells us nothing about the underlying trends in local inequality in a given country.

The changes that have occurred in recent decades in China might be illustrated with a metaphor. There are two trains running from a station called “underdevelopment” and heading towards a station called “development.” One of the two trains is very fast, while the other train is slower: consequently, the distance between the two increases progressively. This discrepancy can be explained easily if you keep in mind the size of continental China and its tormented history: the coastal regions, which already had infrastructure (albeit elementary), enjoying easier access and the possibility of trade with developed areas, are in a better situation than the traditionally less developed regions that are landlocked and have as neighbours countries and areas marked by economic stagnation. It is clear that the distance between the two trains travelling at different speeds widens, but we should not lose sight of three fundamental points: in the first place, the direction (the development) is the same; second, today some interior regions are seeing their income grow faster than that of the coastal regions; third, because of the impressive urbanisation process (which pushes the population to the most developed regions and areas), the faster train tends to carry more passengers. Not surprisingly, if we take China as a whole, we see a steady and sizable growth of the middle class, as well as a wider diffusion of social protection and features of the welfare state.

However, the implicit warning in the values reported by the Gini coefficient still applies: if not contained in a proper and timely manner, quantitative inequality can also result in social and political destabilisation.

Wealth and Political Power: An Adversarial Relationship

Social and political destabilisation can also come from another front. How long will the new rich continue to accept a situation in which they can quietly enjoy their economic wealth (accumulated legitimately) but cannot turn it into political power?

Mao was aware of this problem. In 1958, he responded to criticism from the Soviet Union regarding the persistence of capitalist areas in the Chinese economy by saying, “There are still capitalists in China, but the state is under the leadership of the Communist Party.” [39] Almost 30 years later, to be exact, in August 1985, Deng Xiaoping made a remark we should ponder: “Perhaps Lenin had a good idea when he adopted the New Economic Policy.” [40] Here is an indirect comparison between the Soviet NEP and the reform policies adopted by Deng Xiaoping in China. It is obvious what the two have in common: total political expropriation of the bourgeoisie does not equal total economic expropriation. Of course there are also differences. The NEP involved a very small part of the private economy and was primarily intended as a temporary “retreat.” In other words, what was driving the Soviet NEP was the need to find some way out of an economically hopeless situation. There was no comprehensive reflection on which economic model to pursue: not surprisingly, according to Benjamin’s testimony, which we have already seen, the rich NEP man, who was also expected to contribute to developing the productive forces, was facing a “terrible social isolation.” The policy adopted by Deng Xiaoping, on the other hand, leaves behind a clear historic toll: experience has shown that the totally collectivist economy erases all material incentives and motives for competition, paving the way (as previously seen) for mass disaffection and absenteeism; moreover, the populism that saw wealth and gain as such a sin hindered the development of entrepreneurship and technological innovation.

While initiating his policies of reform and openness, Deng was aware of their inherent risks. In October 1978, he cautioned, “We shall not allow a new bourgeoisie to take shape.” This goal is not contradicted by tolerance granted to individual capitalists. Of course, they must be given much consideration. However, one point is constant: “the struggle against these individuals is different from the struggle of one class against another, which occurred in the past (these individuals cannot form a cohesive and overt class).” [41] Although there are residues of the old class struggle, on the whole, with the strengthening of the revolution and the communist party’s power, a new situation was created. “Is it possible that a new bourgeoisie will emerge? A handful of bourgeois elements may appear, but they will not form a class,” especially as there is a “state apparatus” that is “powerful” and able to control them. [40] Besides the power of the state, ideology plays an important role: many of the new rich, although not communists, feel patriotic and share the horror at the “century of humiliation” that began with the Opium Wars and ended with the victory of the revolution, so these new rich also share the dream of “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

And yet, precisely as a result of the success of policy reforms and the extraordinary economic growth of China, the number of millionaires and billionaires is growing dramatically; will the wealth accumulated by the new capitalists have an influence on politics? It is in light of this concern that you may fully comprehend the ongoing campaign against corruption. The clean-up process does not aim only to consolidate social consensus on the Communist Party of China and the government; it means to implement Deng Xiaoping’s recommendation and thus prevent the “bourgeois elements” from forming a class that is ready to take power.

The Sights of the West: “Democratisation” or “Plutocratisation” of China?

The capitalists who were established and continue to get established can be a real danger only if they ally themselves with imperialist circles or pro-imperialists committed to achieving a “colour revolution” even in China. Strengthened by their excessive media power, for a very long time the United States has been trying to consolidate their world hegemony in order to impose a “democracy” on China in the time and manner Washington dictates.

In this behaviour, the United States shows ignorance of the lessons offered by their own national history and liberalism, that is, from the school of thought that they claim to represent. In 1787, just before the implementation of the Federal Constitution, Alexander Hamilton explained that limits on power and the establishment of the rule of law had been successful in two “insular” countries, Great Britain and the United States, thanks to the protection given by the ocean and their geopolitical position shielding them from threats from rival powers. If the plans for a federal union had failed and a system of states similar to the one in Europe had formed on its ruins, soon America would have seen a standing army, a strong central power and absolutism regardless. “Thus we should in a little time see established in every part of this country, the same engines of despotism, which have been the scourge of the old world.” [42] Hamilton ascribed so much weight to geopolitical security in creating a system based on the rule of law that he wrote how if, instead of being an island surrounded and protected by the sea, Britain had been placed on the continent, it “would in all probability, be at this day a victim to the absolute power of a single man,” just like the other European continental powers. [43] On the other hand, according to Hamilton, whenever “the preservation of the public peace” is threatened either by “external attacks” or by “internal convulsions,” even a country like the United States, which also enjoys an extremely fortunate geopolitical position, is authorised to resort to a strong power “without limitations” and without “constitutional shackles.” [44]

In fact, even protected by the Atlantic and the Pacific, every time it has felt, whether rightly or wrongly, in danger, the North American Republic has more or less drastically strengthened executive power and more or less heavily restricted freedom of association and expression. This was the case in the years immediately following the French Revolution (when its followers in America were affected by the harsh measures provided by the Alien and Sedition Acts) and during the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and the situation created by the attack on the Twin Towers. To give an example: What happened to traditional liberal freedoms after the passage, on May 16, 1918, of the Espionage Act? Based on this act, a person could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for having expressed:

[…] any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag […] or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States. [45]

If the leaders in Washington were really serious about the banner of democracy that never tires of waving, they would seek in some way to reinforce geopolitical peace and a sense of security in the countries they claim to want to see become democratic. At the end of the Cold War (as was calmly acknowledged by a scholar who was an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney), the lone superpower used its naval and airforces to violate “China’s airspace and territorial waters with little fear of harassment and interdiction” unscrupulously and with impunity. The great Asian country was powerless at that time. Today, the situation has changed significantly. The United States is, however, still able to control the channels of maritime communications. Therefore, “China is already vulnerable to the effects of a naval blockade, and it will become even more so as its economy grows”; in fact, “its fate could depend on American forbearance.” [46] And it is this situation that the United States strives to perpetuate. All this is not conducive to the development of the rule of law.

The campaign of the West for the “democratisation” of China is taking place just as many political analysts are forced to see the decline of democracy in the West. A few years before the economic crisis, one could read in the International Herald Tribune that the United States had become a “plutocracy”; now the forces of private and corporate wealth have already taken hold of political institutions, while the rest of the population is cut off. [47] Nowadays, on the left as well as among those completely opposed to the Marxist tradition, it is common to read that in the West, and primarily in the United States, plutocracy has taken the place of democracy. We can conclude that the on-going campaign for the “democratisation” of China is actually a campaign for its plutocratisation, to turn in the opposite direction the “political expropriation” of the bourgeoisie that has taken place since 1949 in the big Asian country.

A second campaign, as usual, conducted by Washington and Brussels, requires substantial liquidation of the state-owned sector and the public economy which play such an important role in the fight against two great inequalities: on the international scene, this sector is making a major contribution to China’s technological development, which is increasingly closing the gap with the advanced countries; internally, the state-owned sector and the public economy reduce inequalities between different regions, accelerating the development of China’s less developed regions, which are now growing at a much faster pace than the coastal regions. If this second campaign launched by the West had been successful, the “economic” expropriation of the bourgeoisie, already reduced, would have been cancelled altogether, so that the bourgeoisie could enormously increase its influence in society and again pave the way for conquest of political power.

It is very clear which weapons will be used to fight in the country that has emerged from the greatest anti-colonial revolution in history to engage in a long-term process of building a post-capitalist and socialist society. Which side will the Western left take?

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  1. Cf. Losurdo 2013, 185. 

  2. Marx and Engels 1955–89, vol. 4, 484, 489; translated from Italian. (See also: Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, 1848. Manifesto of the Communist Party. [web] — R. D.) 

  3. Lenin 1955–70, vol. 31, 283–84; translated from Italian. (See also: V. I. Lenin, 1920. The Tasks of the Youth Leagues. [web] — R. D.) 

  4. Figes 1996, 771. 

  5. Marx and Engels 1955–89, vol. 4, 151; translated from Italian. (See also: Karl Marx, 1847. The Poverty of Philosophy. [web] — R. D.) 

  6. Snow (1937) 1972, 262. 

  7. Mitter 2014, 192. 

  8. Mao 1965–77, vol. 2, 344. (See also: Mao Zedong, 1940. On New Democracy. [web] — R. D.) 

  9. Mao 1965–77, vol. 5, 357. (See also: Mao Zedong, 1957. Talks at a Conference of Secretaries of Provincial, Municipal, and Autonomous Region Party Committees. [web] — R. D.) 

  10. Sisci 1994, 86, 89, 102. 

  11. Deng 1992–95, vol. 3, 122, 174. (See also: Deng Xiaoping, 1986. Replies To the American TV Correspondent Mike Wallace. Deng goes on: “However, what we mean by getting rich is different from what you mean. Wealth in a socialist society belongs to the people. To get rich in a socialist society means prosperity for the entire people. The principles of socialism are: first, development of production and second, common prosperity.” [web] — R. D.) 

  12. Bloch (1918) 1971, 298. 

  13. Lenin 1955–70], vol. 33, 254–55; translated from Italian. (See also: V. I. Lenin, 1922. Political Report Of The Central Committee Of The R.C.P. (B.) March 27. [web] — R. D.) 

  14. Gramsci 1982, 516; translated from Italian. (See also: Antonio Gramsci, 1917. The Revoution against “Das Kapital.” [web] — R. D.) 

  15. Gramsci (1926) 1971, 129–30. (See also: Antonio Gramsci, 1926. “Letter to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party,” Gramsci Pre-Prison Writings. — R. D.) 

  16. Quoted in Losurdo 2013, 227–28; translated from Italian. 

  17. Quoted in Losurdo 2013, 184; translated from Italian. 

  18. Pascal 1982, 33–34; translated from Italian. 

  19. Quoted in Losurdo 2013, 192; translated from Italian. 

  20. On Benjamin and Roth, see Losurdo 2013, chapter VII, § 3; in my book I am referring to a deepening of the problems discussed in this essay. 

  21. Lenin 1955–70, vol.45, 27, 231. (See also: V. I. Lenin, 1918. The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. [web] — R. D.) 

  22. Quoted in Losurdo 2007, chapter III, § 2. 

  23. Quoted in Losurdo 2007, chapter III, § 2. (See also: J. V. Stalin, 1924. The Foundations of Leninism. [web] — R. D.) 

  24. Gramsci 1987, 622, 607–8, 624; translated from Italian. 

  25. Carlo Petri, 1919. “Il sistema Taylor e i Consigli dei produttori, I-IV” [The Taylor Sytem and the Councils of Manufacturers, I-IV], L’Ordine Nuovo. Anno I, N°23-26. [web] — R. D. 

  26. Gramsci 1975, 72; translated from Italian. (See also: Antonio Gramsci, 1929-30. Prison Notebooks. Notebook 1, §61, “Americanism.” — R. D.) 

  27. Losurdo 1997, chapter II, 11–12; translated from Italian. (See also: Antonio Gramsci, 1913-17. Cronache Torinesi [Chronicles of Turin]. 520-1. — R. D.) 

  28. Gramsci 1975, 893, 2763–64; translated from Italian. (See also: Antonio Gramsci, 1930-31. Prison Notebooks. Notebook 7, §44, “Reformation and Renaissance.” — R. D.) 

  29. Weil 1989–91, 106–7. 

  30. Huntington 1996, 231. 

  31. Ferguson 2011, 322. 

  32. Mao 1965–77, vol.4, 453. (See also: Mao Zedong, 1949. The Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of History. [web] — R. D.) 

  33. Zhang 2002, 20–22, 25, 27. 

  34. Zhang 2002, 83, 179, 198. 

  35. Zhang 2002, 250. 

  36. Deng 1992–95, vol. 2, 143. (See also: Deng Xiaoping, 1978. Carry Out the Policy of Opening to the Outside World and Learn Advanced Science and Technology From Other Countries. [web] — R. D.) 

  37. Deng 1992-95, vol. 3, 273. (See also: Deng Xiaoping, 1988. China Must Take Its Place In the Field of High Technology. [web] — R. D.) 

  38. Deng 1992–95, vol. 3, 174. (See also: Deng Xiaoping, 1992. Marxism is a Science. [web] — R. D.) 

  39. Mao 1998, 251. (See also: Mao Zedong, 1958. Minutes of Conversation with (Soviet) Ambassador Yudin. [web] — R. D.) 

  40. Deng 1992–95, vol. 3, 143. (See also: Deng Xiaoping, 1985. Reform is the only way for China to develop its productive forces. [web] — R. D.) 

  41. Deng 1992–95, vol.2, 144, 178. (See also: Deng Xiaoping, 1979. Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles. [web] — R. D.) 

  42. Hamilton 2001, 192. 

  43. Hamilton 2001, 194. 

  44. Hamilton 2001, 253. 

  45. Commager 1963, vol. 2, 146. 

  46. Friedberg 2011, 217, 228, 231. 

  47. Pfaff 2000. 

Carlos Miguel Pereira Hernández: Cuba and China are united in the struggle for peace and socialism

On 19 March 2022, Cuba’s ambassador to China, Carlos Miguel Pereira Hernández, spoke at our event ‘21st Century Socialism: China and Latin America on the Frontline‘. The speech was given in Spanish, with English subtitles provided by the Cuban Embassy in Beijing.

Ambassador Pereira makes a number of crucial points about the nature of Marxism as a living science as opposed to a dogma; about the cruel blockade imposed by the US on Cuba, the aim of which is to destroy the viability of the socialist system; and about the importance of the Cuba-China relationship.

Dear Friends:

I would like to congratulate the platform Friends of Socialist China for this valuable initiative of organizing this seminar and opportunity granted to me to address a topic that is gaining more and more theoretical and practical relevance, with good friends, colleagues and scholars whom I deeply respect.

A retrospective look at the theory of socialism allows establishing in advance that the founders of Marxism did not intend to design a scheme of socialist society, so in their works we only find the fundamental theses of the model that would necessarily replace the still-developing capitalism.

The persistent attempts to attribute an exclusive character to the model implemented in the USSR, to the point of trying to impose it as a “single socialist model”, distorted from the beginning the discussions on the alternatives of functioning of socialism. The controversy unleashed between the constituted leadership of the Bolshevik Party and the so-called left opposition after the passing away of Lenin, contributed to the emergence of different theories on the model that should prevail in socialism and, consequently, the parameters to assess it.

The profound differences between the socialism built in regions of the developed world and that one built in that world which was overwhelmed by the global expansion of capitalism led to great theoretical and political mistakes and no less serious practical misunderstandings during the 20th century.

Continue reading Carlos Miguel Pereira Hernández: Cuba and China are united in the struggle for peace and socialism

A Comprehensive and Accurate Understanding of “The New Road of Chinese-Style Modernisation”

We are pleased to publish this paper by Han Qingxiang, from the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Han presents a detailed outline and explanation of the CPC’s understanding of the new phase of China’s socialist modernisation, highlighting both the new aspects since the first phase of China’s reform and opening up, as well as the continuities, along with its antecedents in Marxist theory, specifically work by Marx and Engels in the 1840s and 1850s. The paper was delivered at the Cloud International Workshop on “New Forms of Human Civilization from a World Perspective,” held by the School of Marxism, Dalian University of Technology (DUT), 29-31 October 2021. We are grateful to the DUT Translation Team for their work, as well as to Professor Roland Boer for his meticulous sub-editing and cooperation.

General Secretary Xi Jinping’s speech at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (referred to as the “7.1” speech) pointed out:

Following our own road – this is the firm foothold of all the theories and practices of our Party. More than that, it is the historical conclusion our Party has drawn from its struggles over the past century. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is a fundamental achievement of the Party and the people, forged through untold hardships and great sacrifices, and it is the correct path for us to achieve the great rejuvenation of China. By upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and promoting the coordinated development of material, political, spiritual, social and ecological civilisations, we have created a new Chinese-style path of modernisation and a new form of human civilisation.[1]

Here, from “following our own road” to “the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and then to “the new road of Chinese-style modernisation” provides a comprehensive exposition of the Chinese road’s formative and developmental logic, essential characteristics, important position, and comprehensive elaboration of global significance, all of which has rich political and scientific value.

Continue reading A Comprehensive and Accurate Understanding of “The New Road of Chinese-Style Modernisation”