Three questions about China and the Communist Party of China
Written By: Écspielle Kay Published: 22/11/2020
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.
Is the PRC a dictatorship of the proletariat?
Here’s a surprise: this question isn’t actually that difficult to answer.
The PRC can either be a dictatorship of one class or a dictatorship of another. Under capitalism, it can either be a dictatorship of the proletariat, or a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. If it is not one, then it cannot be anything but the other. So really, ask yourself whether a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie would:
- Mandate re-education courses in Marxism for all government officials?
- Order all journalists and students of journalism to take courses in Marxism?
- Step up the ideology drive on college campuses and introduce Mao Zedong thought classes in 2,600 universities?
- Would a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, deliberately ensure that average manufacturing wages have been rising consistently by ~11% per year at the expense of corporate profits, compared to other “developing” countries like India where wages have stayed repressed for decades?
- Would a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie roll out comprehensive social programmes in the middle of a neoliberal wave of austerity in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis?
- Would a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, in a situation where workers beat a steel executive to death due to privatization plans, step in, prevent workers from being prosecuted, and then reverse the privatization?
Let me respond in advance to three objections. First — no, you cannot excuse the predominance of ‘worker-friendly’ (to say the least) policies by saying that the PRC is a social democracy. Social democracies existed within specific social conditions (from the 1940s to the 1970s) within specific geographical areas (Europe and the settler-colonies of North America, Australia, and New Zealand), and often existed only for the settler/labour-aristocratic/petit-bourgeois classes. It was the displacement of exploitation from the First World to the Third — it was imperialism, plain, and simple. Social democracy never represented a distinct articulation of capital, and has never, ever been a phenomenon in periphery countries. It’s funny because these are the same people who claim the PRC is a brutal hell-hole of rabid exploitation where workers have no power, and then do a rapid about-face and say that the Chinese government is just compromising with workers and doing all of this terrible stuff because of reasons (i.e because they don’t know what social democracy actually is and they don’t understand how social democracy is financed by imperialist value-transfer).
Second — if you still think that when the cameras switch off, every one of the 88.76 million members of the CPC dons a black top hat, hi-fives their neighbour, and says ‘gee we sure fooled those folks into thinking we were dedicated Marxist-Leninists’ then you’re being silly. It’s an orientalist fantasy that the CPC gives enough of a shit about what Western leftists think of them, that they went to the effort of mandating courses in Marxism for every university student in the country just for show.
Third, if you think that the PRC was, at any point, a dictatorship of the proletariat, then you can’t claim that it’s now a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. To those people, if I asked you whether communists could simply get elected into power and turn the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie into an organ of proletarian class power, then you would say no. But then you have people going around and saying that a dictatorship of the proletariat can be reformed into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie when those same people know that in order for the bourgeoisie become the ruling-class, a sharp rupture is required in which the proletarian state is overthrown and supplanted by a bourgeois state. There has been no such rupture in China. There was a rupture in the USSR, a rupture in Yugoslavia, in Albania, and across eastern Europe — but no rupture in China.
In fact, the only basis for the claim — that a proletarian dictatorship can reform into a bourgeois dictatorship — is in the supposed case-example of China. It’s circular logic: China is a bourgeois dictatorship — how are we supposed to know whether this is possible? Well, according to our theory of revisionism, that cultural revolution is necessary to counteract the imminent bourgeois counter-revolution processes which occur under socialism, which manifests itself in the ideological line struggle within the party apparatus, it is definitely possible. How do we know that this is true? How has this theory been validated? Well . . . China is capitalist now, isn’t it? That’s not to say that the MLM conception of revisionism is irredeemably false in every aspect, but that instead it has become overgeneralized to situations where it is genuinely inapplicable.
The fact that there has been no rupture, that the PRC which existed in the 1950s still exists today, alone should suggest that the PRC is a dictatorship of the proletariat.
But then again, the USSR was also a proletarian dictatorship — but it was overthrown due to the prevalence of bourgeois forces which enjoyed a new social basis following Gorbachev’s reforms, paving the way for an unrestrained, total capitalist restoration. So there’s a new problem here: what if market reform has taken on a momentum that the CPC can’t control? Are they really ‘riding on the back of a dragon’ (as I heard someone describe them), or do they have a handle on the situation? Are they in a position where they can continue refining and enriching the basis for advanced socialism, enough to transition to it by 2049?
This brings us to the next question.
Can the CPC actually pull it off?
Can the CPC actually pull it off? If we think of primary-stage socialism as a transitional stage, like the NEP, will the CPC actually be able to make good on the implicit promise they’ve made to 1.379 billion people?
Here’s my take: absolutely.
The SASAC (China’s State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which answers directly to the State Council) has a state monopoly in every important industry sector — here are a few:
- Architecture & Design
- Heavy equipment
- Heavy machinery
- Intelligence services
- Non-ferrous metals
- Nuclear energy
- Ocean shipping
- Postal services
- Science and Technology Research
Not only do they own all of these critical strategic sectors — out of the twenty largest companies in China, all twenty of them are controlled by the SASAC, or by local governments (with the exception of Noble Group, which is based in Hong Kong).
This evidently puts the PRC government in the same position as the USSR in the twenties with the New Economic Policy, where the state retained control over the heights of industry. The key difference between the two is that although the USSR from 1921–1928 had no comprehensive system of economic planning, the Chinese government has been using Five-Year Plans ever since 1953. Another difference is that the Soviet state had nowhere near this amount of leverage. Combined with modern information technology and an extremely pervasive technical infrastructure, this ultimately puts the CPC in a much, much stronger position than the CPSU when it comes to entering into the advanced stage of socialism, and in the end, towards the realisation of world communism.