The Long Game and Its Contradictions
China has overcome colonial oppression, emerged from “100 years of humiliation”, and is now developing its socialist power on the world stage. Through mutually beneficial relationships and a policy of peaceful co-existence, China under the leadership of the Communist Party is actively assisting in the independent economic development of the over-exploited nations of the Global South, eliminating the primary contradiction of our age — inter-continental inequality. Alleviating poverty, promoting trade and learning, and building alliances based on respect and cooperation, the aim is to displace Western hegemony, break imperialist cycles of violence, end capitalist domination, and pave the road toward global communism.
This long term strategy, or at least its first phase, hinges not on orthodox Marxist class struggle, but on quasi-Confucian social harmony, toward the restructuring of global trade.
As this process unfolds, many procedural level contradictions may occur within particular methods and tactics. Some of these are par the course of adopting a hybrid economy in a global market dominated by neoliberalism, and of using private entrepreneurship as a tool of development, such as wealth inequality, environmental degradation, and labor issues within private sectors. There are also problems which arise from the particular developmental conditions of China: urban coastal areas have experienced faster growth than in-land rural regions, and especially at the unprecedentedly rapid pace: between 1990 and 2018 the number of Chinese people living in extreme poverty was reduced from 750m to less than 10m (Economist).
The struggle for global socialisation via peaceful trade rather than violent revolution (at least for now) means that it is in the interest of the CPC to improve conditions for workers, fix labor issues, fight pollution, increase equality, and address uneven development, on its own terms, and according to its plans. Many such measures have taken place in recent years, such as the millions of urban youths sent to rural areas to assist in development and education, or the many stricter rules regarding worker well being which private businesses must follow at the risk of their companies being collectivised (a not at all uncommon occurrence).
But at the same time, grass roots labor movements are not only allowed, but encouraged. The vast majority of wildcat strikes against private corporations in China are not suppressed as they are under capitalist regimes. The ones which are suppressed mostly belong to the category of trouble makers with ties to malignant imperialist entities. The lessons of compromised independent labor unions used by hostile bourgeois states to destroy socialism such as Solidarność in Poland, which doomed the nation to 4 decades of poverty and under development, and paved the way for the rise of fascism today, are heeded by the CPC, and such organisations are not allowed. Social unrest at home is always utilised by imperialist forces and amplified as part of destabilisation campaigns, and is both dangerous for China and hinders socialist progress. But at the end of each day, any still existing legitimate discontent and criticism must be viewed in the context of material reality: in the past 4 decades, the working class of China have seen a 400% increase in wages.
Other contradictions include those which result from the strict non-interference in the affairs of foreign states, which has characterised Chinese foreign policy for thousands of years, and the prioritising of larger international trade relationships over ideological conflicts. One example is unscrupulous business deals with right-wing or even fascist governments, such as Saudi Arabia or Israel. The “live and let live” ethic of this modus operandi even applies to ideological enemies: China also trades with the biggest terrorist organisation in the world, the USA, without even criticising its long list of illegal wars and heinous crimes against humanity. Another is not supporting local leftist struggles in partner nations, such as guerrilla Maoist insurrections in SE Asia, if it might jeopardise trade relations with state entities. If the temporary “ethical net-losses” of these contradictions lead to larger “net-gains” and positive results in the future, they are calculated as worthwhile or unavoidable.
It is a long and treacherous strategy on a grand global chessboard shaped by layers of devastating historical injustice and the cascading chaos produced by exploitative and oppressive processes, and in order to win, relatively minor contradictions and problematic particularities must not obscure or impede the realisation of larger goals.
In 1921, the author and thinker Sun Yat Sen predicted that the fate of the Chinese people will most likely be that of the Native Americans: almost completely wiped out. Due to monarchic rot, foreign domination and abuse, and the country torn apart by warlords, infrastructure, industry, and agriculture lay in ruins; 20% of the population were addicted to opium; piles of corpses lay in the streets.
In 1950, at the birth of modern China and the Communist Party, the average life expectancy was 35. Three decades later, at the end of the Mao era, it had doubled to 70. But in 1980, the average citizen still lived on less than $2 a day, by many measures poorer than people in Africa, and did not have luxuries such as indoor plumbing, refrigerators, or television sets.
In every way, the economic program devised by Zhou Enlai, under the leadership of Deng XiaoPing, continued in the direction of Maoist visionary development, in line with Lenin’s economic policies of early USSR, and rigorously following the Marxist credo that liberation can only come from material abundance. No nation, whether socialist or capitalist, can survive in isolation, and no socialism can be built on hunger and poverty. 40 years ago the great policy of Reform-and-Opening-Up entered China into the international market, a trajectory which, in every way, should be seen as a continuation and extension of the historical legacy of Marxist Leninist theory and practice.
“it is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world by employing real means, that slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and that, in general, people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is an historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the development of industry, commerce, agriculture, the conditions of intercourse”.
–– Karl Marx, “The German Ideology”
“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”
— Karl Marx, “in the critique of the Gotha Program”
“For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly”
“The state capitalism, which is one of the principal aspects of the New Economic Policy, is, under Soviet power, a form of capitalism that is deliberately permitted and restricted by the working class. Our state capitalism differs essentially from the state capitalism in countries that have bourgeois governments in that the state with us is represented not by the bourgeoisie, but by the proletariat, who has succeeded in winning the full confidence of the peasantry.“
— Vladimir Lenin, Can We Go Forward If We Fear To Advance Towards Socialism?
“”We want to do business.” Quite right, business will be done. We are against no one except the domestic and foreign reactionaries who hinder us from doing business. … When we have beaten the internal and external reactionaries by uniting all domestic and international forces, we shall be able to do business with all foreign countries on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
–– Mao Ze Dong, On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship
“So, to build socialism it is necessary to develop the productive forces. Poverty is not socialism. To uphold socialism, a socialism that is to be superior to capitalism, it is imperative first and foremost to eliminate poverty. True, we are building socialism, but that doesn’t mean that what we have achieved so far is up to the socialist standard. Not until the middle of the next century, when we have reached the level of the moderately developed countries, shall we be able to say that we have really built socialism and to declare convincingly that it is superior to capitalism. We are advancing towards that goal.”
— Deng XiaoPing
Now lets take a bird’s eye view of modern China, and the particular shape of its astonishing development in the past 40 years at a historically unprecidented pace:
1) Never privatised major industries (all to various degrees public/state owned). Compare this to the collapse of Yugoslavia, USSR, etc., which were all marked by an immediate devouring of national industry by private businesses: true transitions to capitalism.
2) Land remains collectivised, and leased to private persons or business entities. CPC representatives oversee all operation of corporations, which are entirely answerable to the state.
3) The CPC is comprised almost entirely of working class representatives, extremely few capitalists. In the highest governing body, the National People’s Congress, there are 26 owners of private enterprises among 2600+ members. It is highly meritocratic system, in which decision making proceeds from local councils up to the National Congress, officials are elected in a rigorously democratic process, and the state obsessively polls the citizens on the minutia of public affairs.
4) Never experienced the typical boom bust cycles typical of capitalist economies in its 40 years of steady development, even with using private entrepreneurship methods, which was at a rate of roughly 10% per year.
5) Bottom segments of Chinese society experienced 40% growth since 1979; bottom segments of USA during same period: 1%
6) If the US is not a good comparison due to its drastic differences in history and position, a much better one is India, another post colonial nation developing during roughly same time, which actually, completely, transitioned to capitalism: exponentially more inequality, nearly no progress or even regress for the poorest segments of society.
7) 1.5 million capitalists and officials punished for corruption since 2007, 17% of whom imprisoned or executed. (Whereas capitalist countries reward the excesses and crimes of their capitalist class, such as Wall Street bankers in 2008)
8) Very real problems created by economic infrastructure building with capitalist methods, such as uneven development, inequality, bad work conditions, corruption, pollution, etc. are clearly and repeatedly addressed on national TV in no uncertain terms, (unlike in the capitalist West) as well as visibly by correctional policies implemented, many of which have already had huge effects.
9) Engagement with other countries not exclusively extractionary, but always mutually beneficial, guided by the 5000 years old policy of strict non-interference, in support of independent development of poorer partners. Not only this, but Chinese foreign engagement with Asian, African, and South American countries can be viewed as a building up of an international brotherhood of former colonised nations, together in strength against capitalist hegemony and imperial domination.
10) The process of marginalising and displacing ethnic minorities unfolding in China for 6,000 years has been increasingly reversed since the communist revolution, and especially in recent years. Nearly all or all ethnic minority regions are today governed by members of those cultures, and there are a myriad of affirmative action policies active today which dwarf those in the West.
If private property, money, abstract value production, class society, and the state, are abolished prematurely, when the oppressive logic and power of capital still controls the entire world, China would become vulnerable to both external imperialist violence and internal reactionary sabotage (no doubt under the banner of “democracy”). The Communist Party would be immediately compromised by foreign backed elements; the country might be torn apart once again by civil war, and once again subjected to imperialist domination. The Chinese revolution, what so many millions fought, worked tirelessly, and sacrificed their lives for, will have been for nothing.
Marxism is anything but rigid and dogmatic, and has always been about adapting to the ever changing objective conditions of each era, using what ever is available toward revolutionary goals. The opinion of those baizuo who think that China should have chosen the disastrous course of action described above, or at least remained underdeveloped, poor, and weak, in order to satisfy their fundamentalist interpretation of Marxism, should not be indulged. These myopic and short-sighted “left com”, “ultra-left”, or modern “Maoist” types love to denounce modern China as a betrayal of socialism, without considering that it is the failure of the Western left to do successful revolutions in their countries which made it necessary for existing socialist states to adapt to the global conditions of entrenched neo-liberal capitalism.
Those who think that 1.4 billion people, who for 200 years suffered so immensely under vicious colonial rule and brutal capitalist domination, will so quickly forget what their true enemy is, don’t know much about capitalism, colonialism, or people.
The fight against capitalism continues, but on economic grounds. Because war is the way of capitalism, and 90% of US GDP, while Chinese socialism is developing alliances with Africa, South America, Europe, and other parts of Asia based on mutual development. Socialists will beat the capitalists at the (what they consider their own) game of markets with rational planning, and through peaceful trade and prosperity for all, end their global hegemony.
But at the same time, criticism and self-criticism remains of course a central part of Maoist thought and practice. And yes, as communists, we should of course support authentic labor movements (while guarding against imperialist infiltration), and remain ever vigilant, instead of becoming lazy and put our blind trust into the state, which is always in danger of being corrupted, even socialist ones. As a political body, the CPC has been so extraordinarily competent and successful exactly because of having adapted to much critique, and addressing the demands of activists over the years, and it is, like any political entity, not immune to infection from without or within.
The entrenched and pervasive structures of capitalism took 300 years to build, and the propertarian system of which it is an extension, 6000 years. Its dissolution requires strategies on a scale bigger and longer than is easily conceived or understood by any individual without many years of dedication, and will take more than a few decades to unfold.
Western liberals think in terms of quarterly reports and election cycles. Eastern communists think in terms of centuries, if not millennia.