Last week, the Trump White House formally announced the onset of a cold war with China. In a document titled “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China,” it promised that China’s “transactional approach” would be met with “credible threats” from Washington, and that China will be countered in order to “protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life.” This means increased economic warfare against China, along with an escalation of the nuclear arms race with China and further U.S. war provocations around Chinese territory. It also means increased censorship against anti-imperialists, Sinophobic propaganda campaigns, and McCarthyist targeting of communists.
The geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China are rapidly escalating, and this means a continued rise of militarism and fascism within the imperial core. Yet the left is responding to this with an unwillingness to challenge anti-Chinese propaganda, and therefore an unwillingness to challenge the narratives which are sending us in these dystopian directions.
This complicity is particularly present in social democratic, anarchist, Trotskyist, and Maoist circles, because these are the groups that have tended to reject China’s claim of being a socialist state. The reasons behind their position go deeper than the CIA propaganda against China, though this is a factor that often influences their perceptions. Fundamentally, they dislike the Communist Party of China because it’s supposedly incorporated too much private business into China’s economy.
The premise behind their claim that China is fraudulently socialist (or “revisionist,” as Marxists call the distortion of communism) is that Deng Xiaoping turned China into a capitalist oligarchy with his market reforms. Whenever someone in the communist community expresses this view about China, I wonder if they hold the same hardline stance when it comes to Cuba, the DPRK, Vietnam, or Laos. The communist governing parties of these four countries have also worked private business into their economies; Cuba allows strictly regulated businesses, Vietnam has utilized private enterprise to grow its economy, Laos is open for business on its own terms, and the DPRK has enacted China-style reforms to expand working opportunities for its people.
Pure socialism has never existed in these socialist countries, nor in the past ones; they’ve always had to advance towards communism while surviving within a capitalist-dominated world. In 1949, Mao himself said that “To counter imperialist oppression and to raise her backward economy to a higher level, China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and the people’s livelihood.” Communists continue to have to make the same kinds of compromises, which is what motivates China to structure its economy in the way that it does.
The CPC’s critics might argue that China’s incorporation of business goes too far compared to those of the other socialist states. But under this reasoning, at exactly what point can a communist compromise with material conditions be called “revisionist?” Journalist Travis Jeppesen said in 2018 about what the DPRK has become like after its market reforms: “one of the fascinating things about visiting North Korea many times over the last five years is to see the extent to which you know there are more and more obvious displays of wealth on the streets of Pyongyang. You know, Hermes handbags, Gucci sunglasses.” What separates this from the “revisionist” market reforms of the PRC, where capitalist products and a business class have also been normalized?
The fact that China has billionaires, China’s relationship to the company Foxconn (which is infamous for putting up suicide prevention nets), and China’s stock market have often been named as justifications for viewing the CPC as anti-socialist. But this is only because the anti-Chinese left chooses to view these kinds of things as damning sins, rather than aspects of a complex and nuanced reality. China’s billionaires can’t control their country’s political process like American billionaires can, and this has resulted in numerous Chinese billionaires being imprisoned or executed. China’s critics don’t mention that Foxconn is a Taiwanese manufacturer, not a Chinese one-nor that the sucide rate among Foxconn workers in China is below the national average. And China may have a stock market, but it exists within a country where public ownership still dominates, and where the state is in charge of the economy.
All of these details are a result of the essence of why China is socialist: it retains a workers’ state. China’s working class people, who have been lifted out of poverty by the hundreds of millions since the Deng reforms, hold far more leverage over politics than the bosses and billionaires do. Despite efforts to portray China as a dictatorship, all Chinese citizens over 18 citizens have suffrage, and they can routinely vote in elections-ones where the candidates aren’t predetermined by wealthy oligarchs like is the case in the U.S. political system.
This reality about China’s political system proves that China fulfills the criteria for a dictatorship of the proletariat-a crucial element of a socialist state. The presence of a partially capitalistic economy doesn’t make a dictatorship of the proletariat any less real, and no Marxist-Leninists who understood material conditions have ever argued as such. The only self-described socialists who claim that a country can’t be socialist if it doesn’t have a purely socialist economy are the social democrats, the anarchists, and the left-communists, whose goals don’t even align with the agenda of proletarian revolution.
Given these facts, the Maoists who oppose the modern CPC have one argument to stand on: that Deng’s reforms undid China’s dictatorship of the proletariat. But what Deng did after Mao’s death was not an equivalent to what Khrushchev did after Stalin’s death. In addition to opening the USSR up to capitalist interests when the material conditions arguably didn’t call for this, Khrushchev carried out a change of Russia’s political system that he explicitly referred to as an end to the dictatorship of the proletariat. But Deng said that “We will not do to Chairman Mao what Khrushchev did to Stalin,” a promise he fulfilled by not doing away with the proletariat dictatorship or otherwise carrying out a de-Maoification campaign.
Don’t fall for the attempts from ultra-leftist factions to turn the world’s communist movement against China. The arguments from this faction discourage a materialist analysis in favor of an idealist one, and this only helps the forces of imperialism and capitalist reaction. It’s no wonder why the imperialist media has tried to pit Maoists against the PRC, or to claim that Mao would have supported the fascist and colonial chauvinist protests in Hong Kong; they want to keep us divided, and without a full picture of what it means to build socialism.
The nature of this anti-materialist view of China is apparent from Lenin’s assessment of how Marxist-Leninists should view idealism:
Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, development (inflation, distension) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge, into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised.
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