This article was first published on Medium. We have republished with permission of the author
The Communist Party of China is the vanguard both of the Chinese working class and of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation. It is the core of leadership for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and represents the development trend of China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of China’s advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people. The realization of communism is the highest ideal and ultimate goal of the Party.
– Constitution Of The Communist Party Of China.
What does the CPC think it’s doing?
The CPC uses a lot of specialised language which is impenetrable at first, but it becomes very familiar once you know what everything means. The core idea behind a lot of what the CPC does is the idea of the primary and advanced stages of socialism. Primary-stage socialism is characterised by underdeveloped productive forces, which themselves prohibit the development of advanced social relations. Advanced-stage socialism is characterised by highly-developed productive forces and material abundance. As Marx eloquently put it in The German Ideology:
“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.”
To summarise, the project of socialism is advancing society towards communism, and the prerequisite of this advancement is an advanced material-technical base. This is especially the case for countries such as China, which was kept in chronic underdevelopment as part of the legacy of imperialist plundering.
This isn’t at all a new idea, it’s just a more concrete articulation of preexisting ideas that you’re probably already familiar with. For example, at the 1st Zhengzhou Conference, when asked about the necessity of commodity relations in the construction of Chinese socialism, Mao responded by reaffirming that China was in the initial stage of socialism. Stalin talked about it at length in Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR. Lenin, too, wrote about the subject:
Capitalism is a bane compared with socialism. Capitalism is a boon compared with medievalism, small production, and the evils of bureaucracy which spring from the dispersal of the small producers. Inasmuch as we are as yet unable to pass directly from small production to socialism, some capitalism is inevitable as the elemental product of small production and exchange; so that we must utilise capitalism (particularly by directing it into the channels of state capitalism) as the intermediary link between small production and socialism, as a means, a path, and a method of increasing the productive forces.
– Lenin, “The Tax in Kind” (1921)
Within the limits indicated, however, this is not at all dangerous for socialism as long as transport and large-scale industry remain in the hands of the proletariat. On the contrary, the development of capitalism, controlled and regulated by the proletarian state (i.e., “state” capitalism in this sense of the term), is advantageous and necessary in an extremely devastated and backward small-peasant country (within certain limits, of course), inasmuch as it is capable of hastening the immediate revival of peasant farming. This applies still more to concessions: without denationalising anything, the workers’ state leases certain mines, forest tracts, oilfields, and so forth, to foreign capitalists in order to obtain from them extra equipment and machinery that will enable us to accelerate the restoration of Soviet large-scale industry…
– Lenin, Third Congress Of The Communist International, (1921)
So again, not a new idea. Why am I reiterating this? I’m reiterating it because a lot of leftists treat socialism with Chinese characteristics as some kind of extraordinary rightist deviation, but in reality, there’s nothing new at all behind it. It’s completely consistent with the framework of Marxism-Leninism, and there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about it once you get down it.
Is their developmental strategy successful? Well, decide for yourself:
- One million people are being lifted out of poverty in the PRC every month.
- Even adjusted for inflation, the wages of Chinese manufacturing workers are rising by ~11% a year, in a world where wages are stagnant almost everywhere.
- Neoliberals love to claim that the IMF and the World Bank have helped pull hundreds of millions of people above their shitty fictitious $1.20 a day poverty line. They neglect to mention that the PRC is single-handedly responsible for three-quarters of all poverty reduction since 1981.
- In 1980, GDP per capita (in PPP — which accounts for inflation and purchasing power) in the PRC was $310. In 2017, 37 years later, it’s $16,676. That means that in less than two generations, people have become fifty-three times as wealthy. According to current projections, in the PRC, per capita GDP will be $30,000 by 2030 — around the level of Italy.
So we’ve established that the rationale behind socialism with Chinese characteristics is, first and foremost, oriented towards development. Second, it’s pretty clear that, on the whole, Chinese socialism has been wildly successful on this front — more than any other country in history. This is important because I’m about to move onto the second question.