Is the Chinese government communist?

In a comment to an earlier post on ‘Two Universes’, Ken Surin suggested China offers one layer of capitalism in China, the other two being wild-west capitalism and small-scale market gardeners and the like. Little room for communism here, except perhaps as fiddling with the capitalist mode of production. I know variations on this theme are common among western Marxists and assorted liberals, but no matter how much I respect their opinions, I beg to differ in some respects, especially with regard to the Chinese government. Let’s call the ‘wild-west’ capitalists a mafia-capitalism that seeks to avoid the planned economy. So, I agree that China has elements of mafia-capitalism and communal efforts at local levels, but the suggestion that it has an autocratic state capitalist regime is dodgy at best. A tall order maybe, but let’s see.

First, the term ‘state capitalism’ was coined by Lenin to describe the New Economic Plan in which elements of capitalism would be used to rebuild the Soviet economy. The state remains in control, directing and planning the various elements of market relations – hence state capitalism. The term soon became a popular one of abuse among both the western right and the western left, suggesting that it was not communism at all but a variation on capitalism. You see it cropping up throughout the era of the USSR even by Marxists I respect.

Second, the argument that the Chinese government is autocratic, or a dictatorship, or (more properly) an oligarchy, assumes some ideal form of government – like the thoroughly discredited ‘liberal’ or parliamentary democracy maybe. However, to be a hard-nosed realist about this, if you are surrounded by those who would love to see your demise, and if your long-term goal is the victory of communism over capitalism, then a hard line is sometimes required. In another world, where capitalism is a relic of few basket-case states, then you might be able to switch to a very different way of operating. But that isn’t the case now. As one Chinese person perceptively put it to me: I used to believe that liberal democracy was the best way to go, but then I realised it’s crap and that what we have here is better’.

Third, this description of China can express an impossible romanticism about the pure revolution and its aftermath. It is always best if the revolution is still to come and that all the revolutions we have had are failures which can conveniently be forgotten. Instead of such day-dreaming, I prefer the insights gained from those revolutions. Both Lenin and Mao realised that any revolution needs a good, efficient army (actually, Engels was the first to articulate this position), since all and sundry will do their best to rip apart any communist revolution. And you need, as Engels often quoted from the Gospels, to ‘be as innocent as doves and as cunning as serpents’.

Fourth, the description of an ‘autocratic state capitalist’ regime assumes that not a relic of communism is left, that they have abandoned it as so much useless baggage. That simply does not match with the reality of government and public life in China, into which I have gained a small window or two (my works have been translated by a central party committee and have entered into government discussions over Marxism and religion). If communism has been dumped, how otherwise do you explain – to give but a few examples from a long list – the fostering of Marxist studies throughout China and the world, the full translation project of the work of Marx and Engels from the original languages into Chinese (the former one is from the Russian), the school curricula where students learn of the basics of Marxism, the way in which the intricacies of communism are part of common public debate and discussion, and even the struggles over softer and hard-line approaches? That seems more communist to me than anything you’ll find in most other places.

All of which leads to the relation between what they say and do, between theory and practice. Four options present themselves. 1. Those in charge are thoroughly cynical despots – a little like the priests in the church who foist superstitions on the people but don’t believe it themselves. In short, they are simply in it for their own gain while mouthing platitudes to Marx and Mao. 2. They are stupid and don’t know what they are doing. Both 1 and 2 are really not tenable positions. 3. They have released something over which they have no ultimate control. This is the favoured position of those who mistakenly see a connection between capitalist market relations and ‘freedom’, arguing that China will eventually follow a path similar to some western states. 4. The government is in fact largely in control through a planned economy. Some elements of mafia-capitalism seek to escape that control, but they keep getting caught in the larger scope of planning. On this score, one may understand the noted tightening-up of government policy over the last five years, a spate of arrests and trials for corruption (including Australian citizens of Chinese background), and the desire to reign in mafia-capitalism. One reason, I suggest, is that they have seen what happened in Eastern Europe, where mafia-capitalism gained complete control (in the West, it is called business as usual).

My perspective on this formed by close reading of Lenin’s works and assorted secondary literature after the October revolution in 1917. Not a favourite Lenin for most, since the pre-revolutionary Lenin is far more attractive to many. That early Lenin is often the subject of romanticising views of the revolution that never comes. So why is the post-revolutionary Lenin more appealing for me? Somehow, in some incredible fashion, the communist revolution survived the rest of the Second World War and then defeated a global effort to close it down. The USA, UK, Japan, France, Germany, Canada and many others actively supported in arms and troops the ‘white’ armies who attacked from north, east, south and west. A mixture of good luck, sheer determination and creative adaptation enabled the success of the Red Army, some of whom did not have boots or even coats for winter. All through that ‘civil’ war and afterwards the population weathered food and fuel shortages, epidemics, transport breakdown and an almost global economic blockade. No wonder many lost heart and wondered whether the revolution had achieved anything at all. And then, when it came to the reconstruction of a thoroughly destroyed economy, the communists had to be the ultimate opportunists. As Lunacharsky points out in one of his ‘Revolutionary Silhouettes’, Lenin was the most creative opportunist, prepared to change direction and use whatever would work for the construction of communism. It was sheer hard work, killed off a good many leading figures, Lenin included, and extremely messy. And yet the aim was always to work towards a full communism in the midst of global capitalism. One of Lenin’s repeated comments during this time has stayed with me: the revolution itself is the easy part; constructing communism afterwards is infinitely more complex than what has gone before, capitalism included. The real surprise is not that they ‘failed’ (the topic of another post), but that they achieved as much as they did.


100 thoughts on “Is the Chinese government communist?

  1. I agree with pretty much all of this analysis. I can’t speak for BY, but my use of ‘autocratic capitalist state’ certainly does not imply that western liberalism is somehow a preferable alternative! Indeed I share your conviction that China really has no superior available alternative to its current governmental modus operandi. But we have to acknowledge, realistically, what that mo op involves: total government/party control of the banking system, media and communications, education system, the freedom to reside in a particular locality, and so on.

    I’m not talking here of ‘human rights’, Tibet, etc– how Hilary Clinton and others can prattle on about the former when the US runs the prison at Guantanamo beats me, and let’s avoid the fate of the Hollywood celebs and not allow ourselves to be duped by that wily charlatan, the Dalai Lama.

    As I said in my last posting, the path taken by China is experimental, and some false steps along the way are virtually unavoidable.

    Off to the airport now, back in China next month.

    1. I share your conviction that China really has no superior available alternative to its current governmental modus operandi.

      Though I presume you wouldn’t extend that argument to the point that, say, allowing independent trade unions, or a moratorium on the death penalty, or allowing one to discuss the independence of Tibet much as one can discuss the independence of Wales or Texas would be undesirable developments?

      1. Of course it should.

        Then what is it about the people living in the PRC that means they should not enjoy the same freedoms that you do? Why should it be permissible for you to slag off the government in Australia, denounce democracy, denounce liberalism, denounce capitalism, and claim that they do things so much better overseas and back in time?

  2. I was planning to enter another comment in the previous post, but it seems likely the debate will move here and your post covers the topic I wanted to argue about.

    I am in complete agreement with you about the very visible tendency to romanticize both pre-revolutionary figure and movements and, indeed, defeated movements. I find the ones who just bark “workers’ councils” or something like the worst, and I have very little trust in what they would do if they somehow managed to find themselves in a revolutionary situation or building communism (I also find the Internet fantasy gulag guards disturbing, but I view them mainly as a reenactment society). I have no set opinion on what the various social systems under Marxist-Leninist governments actually were, although I lean towards seeing them as non-capitalist. This is mainly because the question isn’t as simple as it looks, and I don’t feel I know enough about the economics of the countries involved.

    I think your biggest mistake is in seeing the approach to building socialism in China as a unified approach, instead of heeding one of the Chairman’s most notable innovations (for a revolutionary who actually won), which is that class struggle would continue after the revolution, as opposed to simply being threatened by “outside wreckers” and their conspirators (Kasama has been very important in bringing me to this view and influences much of what follows). Yes, this is the old talk of “capitalist roaders” and all that. Where I think Mao, or at least Maoists err, is in seeing this in very idealist terms, along with assigning whatever ideas they oppose with a supposedly objective class basis (obviously the target differs in intra-Maoist disputes and this is not solely a Maoist trait). Maoist-influenced scholars have written reams of text on the question, but Mao and his faction never explained in really non-voluntarist ways what made the new bourgeoisie show its face in the Communist Party. Mao could speak of the “sugar bullets” that were now more dangerous than real bullets to previously ardent Communists, but this is still more a question of personal temptation. The Maoist, or broader “anti-revisionist”, arguments after the Sino-Soviet split regarding the social structure of the Soviet Union hinged on the Kosygin Reforms, which were much smaller than anything Deng and his successors have instituted. I say “social structure” because I think that the anti-revisionist critique, which can ironically rest on a very “Great Man” view, did finally notice how much Moscow-aligned Communist Parties in many countries were becoming fully integrated into liberal democracy as a loyal and non-revolutionary opposition.

    My point in writing all this is that there has been a profound change since the 1970s in China which practically everyone recognizes. Even defenders of present-day China as a socialist state, including the Tiananmen repression, such as the “Trotskyists for Mao”, saw that the Right of the Party had triumphed. China is an experiment, but I have to agree with the bourgeois-deviationist Berlusconi Youth in thinking that sections of the party were very interested in how they could apply East Asian developmental capitalism to China in opposition to what they viewed as self-destructive feuding during the Cultural Revolution and the inefficiency of collective peasant development across China based on communes compared to focused industrial sites with foreign investment and trading ports. The Marxist wording but also justification (I don’t think it’s entirely cynical) does lie in seeing it as a sort of Super-NEP that could last for hundred years.

    What does surprise me is that you, Roland, seem to be judging this on such a cultural and personal level. I don’t know how much Marxist theory remains in the general curriculum, but it’s clear the contradictions of capitalism do operate in China to a far greater extent than any society to which the state cap theorists, whether Maoists or Trotskyists, ever pinned the label. Does translating or discussing your work really measure the level of socialism in China? Does holding academic Marxist conferences or having Marxist study centres change what a society is? The biggest difference I have with your take on “two universes” is that it seems to suggest that China, which has a quantitatively high number of capitalist relations, which would suggest a qualitative change, has somehow figured out a way to get beyond the contradictions of capitalism. The amount of disturbances, particularly those among labour, in China, seems to suggest otherwise. I don’t like being a stagist, but when I am feeling most optimistic about present-day China and what the post-reforms CCP has done, it may come from the painful and massively sped-up proletarianization of its population, which has laid the material base for another revolution.

    1. Nathaniel, a few comments. On personality cults, one of the problems on the left and the right is the reliance on such figures. Mao is no exception here and there is a healthy tendency in China to minimise his role. As for class, as a perceptive analyst in China put it, one of the dangers is that the objective conditions for a middle class exist, but not the subjective (eg. there is no identifiable class enemy against which to define itself). Note the responses to strikes and disturbances is not to tell the buggers to get lost, but to undertake to remedy the wages and conditions problem. That is not what you would get in a situation of subjective class identity. And you misread my comments on the cultural and the personal: I was trying to show the sheer depth and breadth of the way in which communism is part of the cultural and social horizon. Now, you can either argue that there is a profound contradiction with the eocnomic zone, or (as I prefer), to see a complex interaction between these levels.

      1. I don’t think minimizing Mao’s personality cult is the main thrust of what the Chinese government has been up to since the seventies. Since Mao is often described as encompassing both the trajectory of a Lenin and Stalin (i.e., he didn’t die in 1956) and you seem to be on a Lenin kick, it would be like the Soviet government minimizing Lenin instead of Stalin. I also need to do more research on Mao’s last years, since my speculation is that he always held the right (Deng, perhaps with Zhou as his arms) close and just because they were his enemies. Personality cults are always harmful, even if some can find them immediately useful in a liberatory way (the example is that of a peasant standing up to those above by citing Chairman Mao as one would cite God or the good Emperor, both troubling precedents, though who else could one cite against the princes and principalities of this world?). Mao’s face has returned to Chinese money because of his familiarity being an effective anti-counterfeiting measure, but as the “harmonization” continues and anniversaries roll by, invoking Mao is important to Chinese domestic politics (they’ll leave it off at the Olympics). I’ve seen “Founding of a Republic” and “Founding of a Party/Beginning of the Great Revival” (the latter very much worth seeing) and the Party-State will squeeze as much legitimacy remains from that.

        Also, “Note the responses to strikes and disturbances is not to tell the buggers to get lost, but to undertake to remedy the wages and conditions problem.” Even revisionists can still quote the Manifesto and know what not ameliorating some of the sources of the disturbance will lead to.

        I follow contemporary China with interest, because it is one of the greatest revolutions in history, which stems partly from it being China and also from the ways in which it came out of the Stalinized World Communist Movement to make something markedly different than the Soviet Union’s experience. I don’t think the story of China’s revolution is over, even as I think that story might be continued by the disturbances, but I also try to follow Amilcar Cabral’s motto: “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”. And I don’t think that requires us to be Internet hard men communists.

  3. The title of this post really is the question of the age! I recently read some interesting discussion on it from two very different currents in the Trotskyist tradition: here and here. The author of the latter seems to have been influenced by the extensive writings on the subject by John Ross, who blogs here.

  4. In a comment to an earlier post… Mindless Berlusconi Yoof actually made the point that post-’78 PRC could be better understood by comparison with the East Asian development states of Sth Korea under Park Chung-Hee and Taiwan under the one-party rule of the nationalists. A related point was that contemporary scholars of China and East Asia give better accounts of what’s going on that what Lenin wrote in the 1920s; otherwise its like using the Bible to understand the contemporary conflict in Israel/Palestine. None of these three are/were totally closed systems; there’s a strong circulation of policy ideas within the boundaries of the CCP, but there are/were circulations of policy ideas withing the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties (also mass parties) which wouldn’t stop anyone calling these countries authoritarian.

    First, the term ‘state capitalism’…. is far more common an assessment than you make out and came to mean that a similar system of capitalist economic administration was in force; exploitative, rational, growth-driven, produced by and exacerbating unequal societies. And I come back to the reams of discussion of contemporary Chinese capitalism on the left and the right alike which takes the capitalist class society as an accurate one; hence campaigning for basic leftist principles like the right of workers to organize collectively and the right of political accountability.

    Second, the argument that the Chinese government is autocratic… you never argue that the PRC isn’t an authoritarian regime here, just excuse it with a claim they’re trying to build communism that you don’t support and very little contemporary scholarship that my dilettante hands have come across would take seriously, even as a point of faith. Plus there’s my earlier point that the government of the PRC now is similar to other authoritarian development states.

    Third, this description of China can express… A military policeman’s life is a lonely one but this cold war mentality doesn’t fit the present state of affairs when the rival powers are economically intertwined. And authoritarian capitalist development states use(d) exactly the same rhetoric, which is how Kim Dae-Jung ended up waiting on death row to be executed as a North Korean agent and allowing democracy in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia would be to allow an Iranian take-over.

    Fourth, the description of an ‘autocratic state capitalist’ regime… if my fellow fashionable bourgeois cynics HRW are correct that “The government vets religious personnel, seminary applications, and religious publications, and periodically audits religious institutions’ activities, financial records, membership, and employees” then yours isn’t the only work the Party has been interested in. Perhaps there is a loyal cadre in a basement office somewhere as we speak telling his boss “I’ll be done with Roland’s new book tomorrow; then I’ll start on Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Been a lot of internet chatter about this one. Very controversial. Will have to read it carefully.”

    All of which leads to the relation between what they say and do… only a problem if we need to interpret political discourse in its most literal fashion. Sure the government’s in control of the commanding heights but that was true in authoritarian South Korea and Taiwan who had as many 4 and 5 year industrialization plans as Mao did. Also true for the development states in the Gulf. Comes back to my argument that contemporary China is best understood through the parallels with its neighbors. It’s not to say that it will end up like a western state, but there are obvious projections one could make about how China might develop in the coming decades. The advantage the CCP has is that they’ve seen what happened in Taiwan and Korea (and, of course, Egypt) and so confound the vulgar capitalists who assume that economic reforms will automatically lead to political reforms.

      1. Seriously, dude, you need to go to China and see a bit for yourself. You’ll soon see that your forced comparisons with parts of east Asia and the Middle East are just that, forced.

    1. Because of the appalling registration system, the CCP has created the most exploited industrial working class on the planet. If only they allowed them the same rights as workers in Hong Kong…

      P.s. Are you deliberately trying to infuriate Roland by linking to a bourgeois news site like Reuters and an ultra-left infantilist site like LibCom in the one post?

      1. Ha! I did consider that before linking both. No, not at all, just genuinely interested in his stance. I recently heard a documentary on Radio 4 that suggested a striking contrast between China and India – in China, the amelioration of poverty is very much quicker, it was suggested by the documentary maker, because of their still continuous commitment to Maoism. Couple this with chatting to another friend who said that Chinese market economy was ‘planned’. Say they decide to start making advanced cars – well, they will send spies to the best American companies, then just start making them…

      2. The comparisons between China and India are interesting, so are the comparisons between India and Pakistan, but I’d come back to the analogies between China and the (other) development states in East Asia. The “synthesizing” of technology is a key feature of the ‘flying geese’ development state model; you start making cheap radiators and forty years later you have a Samsung Galaxy or HTC smart phone. Koreans are already making cars in China, and Chinese companies are also making their own copies of Korean cars. Much like they just finished an aircraft carrier they bought from the Ukraine off e-bay … because Lenin teaches us that a revolution needs a strong army.

    1. Next you’ll be saying that a few cynical malcontents in places like Hungary and Poland showed the great Soviet socialist enterprise was somehow flawed. And where is the sympathy for the dedicated cadres building communism? Would you spend your days confiscating bicycles or beating up disabled fruit vendors on a Chinese cop’s salary? Neither would I, sir.

  5. Perhaps you would prefer it, but I wouldn’t, and I am absolutely sure that Marx and Engels wouldn’t prefer it either. You see, brainwashing with Marxist ideology can pretty quickly turn into brainwashing with “marxist” ideology.

    Historical materialism is a science that develops a critique of class societies, exposes their material contradictions and unravels their ideological facade which is derived from these contradictions. In a society as envisaged by Marx, there would be no ban on books, films etc, which came from the enemies of the socialist society. One cannot read and understand Marx adequately, or at least so I think, without knowing anything about Mill or Ricardo or Bakunin etc

    Marx and Engels excelled in brainwashing themselves with reading the liberals, the authoritarian socialists etc on what they had to say about politics, economics, society and so on. And they were right in doing so because there was no other way of reaching the land of historical materialism (Marx even went to the extremes of reading, for example, all the economists that came before him before completing Capital Volume 1). It is only through critical engagement with your ideological enemies that a Marxist view of things can fully blossom.

    The other way is simply to read the latest decrees of the Central Committee and memorize them (the Social Democrats are Social Fascists kind of thing which then evolves without apology into Popular Front Strategy) or be “informed” by the “marxist” party controlled media about the “sabotage” of soviet production by the Trotsky-Bukharin-Zinoviev agents of the Gestapo while, in reality, the peasants simply oppose energetically the collectivization war forced upon them (as, by the way, Lenin knew very well they would).

    So if I am a citizen of a Marxist society I want to be provided with the means of being fully up to date with what the “Bernankes” and the “Merkels” of the world are saying. If I have received my Marxist education at school and at the university (and most important of all though personal and hard study), I can apply Marxist steel on the writings and sayings of the liberals on my own without substituting the party line on the liberals for my own understanding. If the party thinks for me then I’ll end up in a position, when one day someone will knock on my door and declare to me that the economy is being privatized and that now I’ll have to pay for my house, for medical care, for electricity, for water, for my vacations to the Black Sea etc. I’ll end up thus in the position of the Soviet citizen, who indignantly BUT CALMLY watched all his privileges get torn away from him during the transition to capitalism. It is sometimes asked why didn’t Soviet citizens make a new revolution during the bloodthirsty raids of vampire liberalism in the 1990’s. Well, in their vast majority, they didn’t partake in the control of their society for about 60 years, and they got used to it. When the time came to act they didn’t know what the word act was. They were raised and bred in inaction. And then came Boris.

    Now this is already getting too long, but I must state my amazement that, in his post on whether there is communism in China, Roland does not bother to discuss what Marx and Engels had to say, I won’t say on the issue of a communist society, but even on the transition-to-communism state-form which is characterized by the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Well they would not have regarded the Chinese state as a “dictatorship of the proletariat” kind of state to say the least. The principles of majority support through elections, of the right of the working classes to recall their representatives if they did not truly represent them and of social (NOT STATE) control of the means of production were too important for them. Unfortunately they weren’t as important for the stalinized parties of the 20th century. And the whole world is paying the price for this.

    1. Allonsanfan, you’ll find access to all the materials you want in China and open debate about them. As for Marx and Engels, they were extraordinarily reluctant to provide a blueprint for a communist society, largely because they were smart enough to realise it would be qualitatievly different. Lenin, to his frustration, has to construct such a picture for the bits and pieces they occasionally provided.

  6. “First, the term ‘state capitalism’ was coined by Lenin to describe the New Economic Plan in which elements of capitalism would be used to rebuild the Soviet economy.”

    As I have said before you run an excellent blog, but I doubt that the above is true.

    From memory, the term ‘state capitalism’ was first used to describe the way the German government organised their economy during the First World War i.e. state-directed capitalism (not the state as capitalist).

    Again from memory, Lenin used first used the term in 1917 or 1918 (i.e. at least two years before the introduction of NEP) when he said something like “for us state capitalism would be a step forward”.

    There was a time when I could have given you chapter and verse (to coin a phrase) but I an a bit rusty these days so it’s possible that I am mistaken. I would check but its past my bed time.

    Best Wishes


    1. Thanks again, George, you are correct. Lenin first describes state capitalism in social-democratic Germany, when social-domocracy meant socialism. And he sees it as a way out of the economic mess the capitalist blockade left to Russia.

    1. Actually, Allonsanfan, the big difference between Marx and Engels on the one side and Lenin and Mao etc on the other, is that the latter actually had to deal with the messy reality of what to do after the revolution. With all due respect to the ‘hairy grandfathers’, as they call them in China, they did not have to face that question, however much they would have loved to do so.

  7. I never said that Marx and Engels provided a blueprint for a communist society. They were not Fourier. What I said is that they had quite a few things to say about the transition-period of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, and I mentioned 3 of their principles which point to the democratic core of Marx’s and Engels’ thought (majority support for the Party verified by elections, the right to recall representatives and social ownership of the means of production). Because the undeniable fact is that Marx and Engels were Democrats, with a capital D. True Democrats, not philistine liberal democrats.

    You say that they did not have to deal with the messy reality of post-revolutionary problems. Well, for example, you know that they did have things to say about the Paris Commune, both words of praise for the Commune-form of government as well as words of critique for what the Commune could have done but did not do. Let me add here that they also said things about the peasant problem that a post-revolutionary government would face, and this is directly relevant to the Soviet experience and Stalin’s “solution” to the problem, a “solution” which was the complete opposite of the measures proposed by the founding fathers of Marxism, and of Lenin’s policies as well.

    What I deduce from your argument is that while Marx’s and Engels’s historical materialism is OK (you’re a Marxist after all), their advocacy of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a democratic government of the working classes is not, because after the revolution it is not possible to have the level of democracy Marx and Engels wanted (and this begs the question “How long will it be till it becomes possible?”). So while these two folks were geniuses in developing the historical materialist method they were simultaneously naive enough to believe in the possibility of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Thus when the issue comes to the governmental form of the revolutionary society Marx and Engels become just the well-meaning “hairy grandfathers”. They are simply not relevant any more.

    I think that this is a variant of an old and quite standard accusation against Marx and Engels, the “utopianism” accusation.

    All I can say is, it isn’t necessarily so…

    1. You occasionally use ‘democratic’ in a universal form, without an epithet – very dangerous move, since it immediately associates bourgeois ‘democracy’, concerning which Marx, Engels and Lenin were scathing in its limitations. The only viable form of such a parliamentary democracy is as a stage to the communist revolution – then it should be supported, fostered and led. The catch is that Western Europe and the West in general are at a stage of arrested development, if we can put it that way. Another way is to point out that when the bourgeoisie achieved its revolution, the promised liberty, equality and fraternity were suddenly not for the workers who supported them. Later, you state ‘democracy of the working classes’, which is precisely the dictatorship of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie and all its limited values simply don’t get a look in.

      Yet my point remains: Marx and Engels never had to construct communism after a revolution – and that point has nothing to do with a ‘utopian’ accusation. But let’s say the 1848 revolutions in Europe were successful and Marx and Engels found themselves members of a revolutionary government. How might they go about it? Marx himself would have been hopeless. Great thinker but thoroughly impractical. Engels, on the other hand, had a deft practical hand, as a careful reading of his texts indicates. He probably would have advocated – amongst the new commune or soviet – a far tougher line that Lenin or perhaps even Mao.

  8. I get it: before the revolution, dialectical materialism is the ultimate reality; after the revolution, the idea of communism is the ultimate reality. Great, really inspiring.

      1. Well, Hayek’s rose-tinted-glasses view of Pinochet’s Chile does bear a passing resemblance to some of the stuff you trot out on China. Sure, liberalism is totalitarianism and spins its own BS, too – but as they say in China, two wongs do not make a white.

        … but I dislike arguments from analogy like I dislike nineteenth-century theories of progress and racist jokes…

        Don’t get me wrong, I admire the intellectual effort that it takes to deny manmade global warming, the holocaust, or to defend systematic theology or Marxism. It’s as admirable as pursuing those two topics to which Newton devoted most of his intellectual life. And let’s face it, Newton’s third favourite topic was already done by Descartes half a century before. That’s why Rene was known throughout the 17thC as the father of science, until Voltaire picked up on the half-forgotten and unoriginal Newton halfway through the 18thC and became his number one press agent. A marketing campaign effective for two-and-a-half centuries … did a lot better than Voltaire’s fake Veda about Adam and Creation.

        Anyway, you get my point.

  9. What is a communist state? It can’t be anything other than a dictatorship of the proletariat (at least under world capitalism). (Neutral, or quasi- or pseudo-neutral terms or forms like “democracy” or “oligarchy” or “dictatorship” are less important than the class nature/content of a state.) Can a dictatorship of the proletariat permit the existence of billionaires or multimillionaires (i.e. big, very big, the very biggest capitalists/bourgeoisie) in its midst, let alone create them in the first place, even if once in a while it arrests and even executes the odd one (or rather some of their corrupt state cronies or underlings or simply admirers–shades of “Brownie, yer doin’ a heckuva job” and “to get rich is glorious”)? (And of course Bernie Madoff is in an American prison, and Khodorkovsky in a Russian one.) The Soviet Union didn’t need (or want) them! Can a dictatorship of the proletariat avoid being fatally corrupted by them, or by the process that creates them? Is the Chinese state more for its workers or its capitalists? How is the life of the Chinese worker?

    I very much appreciate your Marxism and your personal views, Roland, and I very much want to believe that Marxism flourishes in China, but…. Now, I’ve only been to China once, for a couple of months back in 1999. But I love the films of Jia Zhangke, and they portray a very neoliberal China, China in a state of primitive accumulation or accumulation by dispossession as David Harvey says. And not for the sake of communism or the working class. Indeed, Harvey includes Deng Xiaoping with Thatcher, Reagan, and Pinochet as key political frontmen for the restoration or creation of capitalist class power. But perhaps the original sin belongs to Mao, for failing to collectivize agriculture as Stalin did (insofar as conditions were similar or appropriate). At least (or at best) we can say that the Chinese Communist Party, no doubt informed by Marxism, is a much better manager of the economy (and indeed a much better guardian of the national interest) than are the various conservative, liberal, and social democratic parties of the West. Because of course Marxists (even lapsed Marxists) understand capitalism better than anybody else.

    1. Harvey is, as usual, pretty mixed up on all this. But the repeated comparisons with UK, India, South Korea or any other state like them, misses one crucial feature: they are not communist. Hence my comparisos with the USSR.

      1. But of course you’ve said (and I agree) that all the variously named parties of the West (conservative, liberal, social democratic, socialist, what have you) are really just factions of the one capitalist party. So what’s in a name? Now I grant that communism goes further in China than the name of its ruling party. But it’s fundamentally about the economy (which to say the least “can’t be left out of that equation”).

        Also: I wasn’t aware that the Soviet Union was ever (much less relentlessly) criticized for having/producing too many very rich capitalists.

  10. Or perhaps China is or is becoming a kind of Spartan or Platonic state, with a communist ruling/political class, a money-making bourgeoisie (big and petty), and a severely exploited working class. Good luck with that!

    1. That would make the government like the cynical priests who don’t believe a word of what they say and are in it purely for their own gain. Problem is that Marxism and communism are crucial to the very worldview in which it all operates. I am by no means a sinophile, singing the praises of how the Chinese are going about things, but you hve to make sense of the pervasiveness of communism in China as a cultural, social and political reality. And I would say that economics can’t be left out of that equation.

      1. By way of analogy, don’t you hate it when someone comes up with the idea that Western ethics only work because they’re in fact only Judeo-Christian ethics in disguise? … or that Marxism is only a secularised Christianity? Of course, there is some truth in such claims, but it is either banal and not very informative of current practices, if the influence is described accurately, or it is almost entirely wrong, if, as is common, it is overstated.

  11. What strikes me about the polemic against China is that is extremely unoriginal. Already in the first days of the communist RSFSR (later USSR), similar comments were made by exiled middle class Russians and the presses of the West. It was unremitting for seventy years, entering the fabric is schooling, press reports, research on Russia etc. Hard to get out of that mindset.

    1. Well that’s another reason not to bother reading any contemporary scholarship on China – which would only sow cynicism and liberal deceit amongst the faithful – and stick with debates and polemics from 1920s Russia. Can the collected works of Lenin tell me who’s gonna win the English Premier League this year, or do I need to consult the Progress Press Pocket-Sized Enver Hoxha Companion for these insights?

    1. “Napoleoni also separates failed Leninist political ideology from true Marxist theory, showing that Marx’s writings do not reject profit so long as it is used to benefit the people. Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat is being realized in China, she argues, where giant steps forward are being made in the name of progress and the wellbeing and prosperity of the Chinese people.”

      I hope that the book is better than what I read in this part of its synopsis. Marx does not reject profit if it is to benefit the people??? Now, that’s something new. Marx views the profit motive as the main cause of all sorts of evils which befall the people. He wrote quite a few things on the issue including a book called “Capital”.

      As for the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, in Marx’s terms, being realized in China, this is plainly a falsification of Marx’s writings on the subject. One may reject Marx’s views on the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as untenable or whatever, but it is quite another thing to impose on him views that he never held.

  12. “he is deep down a bourgeois cynic and doesn’t like the thought of the life he has become accustomed to living being disrupted”.

    I had that exact thing written on a fortune cookie last night. Irreversible tide of History or what!

  13. Wot – me bourgeois? No, I believe in communism: the fact is: when a State-owned enterprise is turned into a joint stock corporation with many shareholders, it represents socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it, since ownership goes from a single owner to a large number of owners…. If SOEs are turned into joint stock corporations and the employees are given some shares of the stock, then this would achieve Marx’s objective of private ownership of property…. The United States has companies with millions of shareholders, which is a far more socialized form of ownership than anything that exists in China.

    1. “Your last statement simply reinforces your adhesion to the bourgeois project”

      That last statement is “bourgeois”? Well yes, but not only that: it’s bloody neo-liberalism, to boot!

      But, sorry, I forgot to put quotation marks around the statement. Did I not make it clear that these are the words of Chinese university professors, spoken at a conference in Beijing sponsored by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party? Did I not mention that the description of privatisation of SOEs as “socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it” was “stated by someone from the Central Party School” ( Whoops, my bad!

      Yes, what you call “the bourgeois project” is the project of the Chinese Communist Party. Well done – you spotted it!

      Although the Party today couches their expressions with the facade of Marxist lingo, these Marxist-sounding terms have become mere placeholders or open signifiers facilitating the substance: bourgeois neoliberalism. You were right to condemn it, I reckon.

      However, this gets tricky … isn’t criticism of the official Party line Trotskyism. Will you continue to condemn the statements, now that you are quite aware that they are made by the Party (i.e. will you continue in your Trotskyism)? Or will you praise “the bourgeois project” gloriously carried out by the Party for the facade of Marxism? Of course, there are other options – name calling, etc.

  14. 過労死
    “It was sheer hard work, killed off a good many leading figures, Lenin included, ”

    Another quibble. Was Lenin really the victim of karōshi?

    While I have enormous respect of the Old Man, and do not doubt that he was highly productive, I am not sure that Lenin’s work schedule was exceptionally arduous. Certainly, not to the extent that overwork was the main cause of his death.

    I think being shot in the head may have had something to do with it.

    1. A close read of all his works, plus accounts of those close to him, makes it pretty clear that he worked himself to death. He knew that revolutionaries burn out early, and after the revolution rarely slept, suffered prolonged headaches and an increasing number of illnesses, and he got very, very cranky and frustrated. The bullet didn’t kill him so much as the accumulated effect of overwork and stress.

  15. Deane, your last statement takes up the standard Western line on China, which is point 1 in my initial post: they are simply cynics who mouth platitudes to Marxism but don’t believe a word of it – like priests in the church (the MR article takes exactly this line). I’m afraid that is simply not the reality in China, especially if you spend a bit more time there than one conference. I’ve spoken with quite a few people who have a good sense of what is going on, including party officials, and it is much more like my initial post outlines.

    1. “your last statement takes up the standard Western line on China”

      You might be able to claim such a thing … if you hadn’t already identified this Party statement as reflecting “the bourgeois project”:

      “when a State-owned enterprise is turned into a joint stock corporation with many shareholders, it represents socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it, since ownership goes from a single owner to a large number of owners”

      So which is it? Is this Party reference to “Marx and Engels” a genuine description of communism?

      Or is this Party reference a facade, in substance reflecting “the bourgeois project” (as you described it before)?

    2. Party members who couch neoliberalism in Marixst terms remind me of Christians who couch ecology in biblical terms. Rarely are either “cynical”. Rather, they use an existing authority as a placeholder, a master signifier.

      Critical thought does not necessarily take such representations at face value, however.

  16. Plus, there is a smug orientalist arrogance in asserting the ‘cynical priest’ line (with the associated assumption of stupidity). It goes: Somehow, those simple people in China don’t know what is going on, but we in the West, with our superior knowledge, really do. So we need to teach these backward people that they are deluding themselves. If you take that line, you’re in for a few unpleasant surprises, not least of which may be the reality that we are the stupid ones.

    1. Imagine being critical about human societies! the arrogance of not taking things that people say about themselves at face value! whaddarya think you are? Can’t we all just accept what the Party says is true? I mean, look at their track record – surely it speaks for themselves!

      And while we’re on this subject, can’t you just accept that if the Bible says is true, without arrogantly thinking you know better? We don’t need all these books of yours. We only need One Book.

      1. “when a State-owned enterprise is turned into a joint stock corporation with many shareholders, it represents socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it, since ownership goes from a single owner to a large number of owners”

        Is this Party reference to “Marx and Engels” a genuine description of communism?

    2. can’t you just accept that if the Bible says is true, without arrogantly thinking you know better

      I’ve noticed is how much like a fundamentalist rant against modernity our host’s anti-revisionism has become:

      – critical scholarship (not what we hear from loyal cadres or theologians in a society that tightly regulates religion) is ignored or denounced as liberal perversion.

      – old texts can explain contemporary societies better than any liberal journalist or economist can.

      – those who cannot have faith in the scriptures, who claim that it’s message is not universally applicable or somehow -snortle- old-fashioned, are simply suffering from a mental delusion.

      – going back a bit: if you read Lenin “sensitively” you realize he was a great force for democracy in the world; much as if you read the bible “faithfully” you also come to an objective agreement with historical church truths. As CS Lewis wrote, either Lenin was who he said he was, or he was a despot. I do not believe he was a despot.

      – great pleasure is to be found in the scorn of the unbelievers; they more they mock my beliefs in the Great Stalin and my support for the execution of political dissidents in the USSR – who I seem to believe were all conspiring against the state, and the wage of sin are death afterall – the more resolute I will become.

      – we are on the cusp of a great communist revival in the spiritually dead heart of Europe; capitalism has failed and the people want Ceausescu back. They may not vote like it, but they like like it.

      *sigh* I miss the days when the only stuff I found morally and intellectually indefensible on this blog was the love for Jethro Tull and the occaisonal visit from the Irish Anglo.

      1. “when a State-owned enterprise is turned into a joint stock corporation with many shareholders, it represents socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it, since ownership goes from a single owner to a large number of owners”

        Is this Party reference a facade of Marxism, in substance reflecting “the bourgeois project” (as you described it before)?

  17. Does the designation “mafia” capitalism really serve any purpose in this context other than helping to legitimate regular capitalism? Liberal/parliamentary democracy may be preferable to fascism, but both kinds of capitalist state are the enemy, the one insidious, the other obvious.

  18. Right, that’s it, Deane. For your caricature of party debates, for ignorance and arrogance, for a complete lack of self-criticism re the bourgeois project, for championing a defunct approach to biblical scholarship, you are hereby sentenced to the firing squad.

    Roland says, no, no, comrade Stalin. I’m a softy at heart. He can join BY in Siberia, with our fiery peasants. I am sure they will smile and laugh when he tries that crap on them … and then, who knows, they might have something useful for his reeducation.

  19. Actually Deane and BY, to pick up your earlier futile effort to attribute some weird fundamentalist approach to my reflections, I am afraid it is you who are the doctrinaire ones (and me the critical one, if we want to use that distinction for a moment). You uncritically buy the standard line on China, that they are stupid and don’t know what they are doing, etc etc., while I am trying to add a critical dimension to that dodgy narrative. Oh shit, I ‘m sorry, only an unreflecting acceptance of such a narrative is actually critical, just like Western Europe can teach us a lesson in ethnic understanding, or that the USA provides stability in the world.

    1. I liked your Stalinist pop-psychology better than you Stalinist playground taunts. Like your earlier “arguments” that amounted to little more than, “spare a thought for the lonely gendarme” does this amount to anything more than, “I know you are but what am I?”

      (Comrade Deane: I think Comrade Boer’s dilemma is that he cannot countenance the idea of China as a repressive state, that what the Party says may not be the object truth, and not widely held by the workers and peasants of the Peoples Republic. Whereas you and I are well aware of daily protests, online mockery, and the advocacy for widespread progressive rights like independent trade unions, (or a progressive taxation system, lol!) unfortunately the “only” people who comment on such things are human rights groups, foreign newspapers, Hong Kong-based Trotskyist workers rights associations, and numerous internal dissidents, intellectuals and artists, as well as countless scholars (few of whom, alas, have a working knowledge of the political theology of Ernst Bloch). This is a further misfortune because all of these people are objectively part of the great deception who clearly want to return to the days of Manchukuo and footbinding. That is if they even exist at all and are not simply dreamed up in the editorial offices of The Wall Street Journal. So from Comrade Boer’s perspective, he sees only two punkass cynics who think they know better than the Chinese people, who they must figure for idiots, since they have raised no objections to a system and a ruling Party that we present as repressive and corrupt.)

      1. Too true, Comrade Mindless Yoof.

        Further, it is we who are giving the Chinese people respect by counting them as worthwhile of our criticism. There is more than a hint of patronisation in this refusal to criticise, misguided paternalism, the assumption that “they” are childlike compared to us. But the current Chinese Communist Party rationalisation of neoliberalism – with recourse to the facade of Marxist terminology itself – demonstrates the opposite conclusion. This approach is certainly not at all “stupid” (per Chairman Boer’s caricature), but ingenuous. It does not, as a rule, involve “cynicism” among China’s rulers (per Chairman Boer’s caricature), but is a mode of self-protection, a denial for sure, but who of us can face the Real? It is universally human, this attempt to rationalise action, in times of rapid change, in terms of the ideologies with which we are familiar. A critical approach should neither exonerate such rationalisations, nor dismiss ithem as stupid or cynical – and these are two sides of the same coin. It is hardly surprising, then, that we hear both of these uncritical stances only from Comrade Boer: as the representation of his own position on the one hand, and of his imaginary Other on the other.

        How might a critical approach treat this statement by a Central Party member: “when a State-owned enterprise is turned into a joint stock corporation with many shareholders, it represents socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it, since ownership goes from a single owner to a large number of owners”? This is a statement which, as Chairman Boer recognised, furthers “the bourgeois project”. It is in substance neoliberalism, couched in Marxist terms. It is hard for outsiders, without certain commitments, to be taken in by it, but it is not so hard to recognise a universal compulsion at work here, the “incredible need to believe”. Here we have a clear parallel with fundamentalist Christian religion, in which not only the meaning of authoritive texts is unchallengeable, but the content of these words sometimes becomes infinitely plastic, as they are transformed into master signifiers, placeholders for any new circumstances that might arise.

        “At the core of Biblicism is a fundamental tension between the relatively fixed text of the Bible and the ever-changing demands of authoritative discourse. In my lifetime I have seen, among evangelical Christians, a new emphasis on environmental awareness, on physical fitness, on community formation, and changes in gender ideology. All of these changes reflected trends in the larger cultural environment, but all were incorporated into evangelical Christians’ authoritative discourse by being expounded from the Bible, as what the Bible had always said” (Brian Malley, “Understanding the Bible’s Influence,” pages 194-204 in James S. Bielo, ed., The Social Life of Scriptures: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Biblicism (Rutgers, 2009), 202-203).

        If you recognise that privatisation of State assets is not really “socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it”, but a furtherance of “the bourgeois project” – that the Chinese Party here is couching neoliberalism in the form of Marxist terminology – should we make the same conclusion as does Malley? If not, why not?

    1. Can you promise me you won’t write anything even resembling your argument that the Bolsheviks enacted an “absolute freedom to chose the type of state you want” but that the state was entirely justified in executing people who it believed were conspiring to “overthrow the state”.

      Promise me nothing like that this time because I almost had a stroke laughing so hard.

  20. Deane, you are starting to sound like a man with an unresolved trauma, quoting that one fragment endlessly in order to give it some credibility. Read closely, my dear man, for I never said the Chinese state wasn’t ‘authoritarian’ – of course it is, and that’s a good thing. What government doesn’t want to offer strong leadership and have authority?

    1. What government doesn’t want to offer strong leadership and have authority?

      This takes the fundamentalist political discourse to a whole new level.

      Deserter? Sure I’m a deserter, who doesn’t love dessert? There wasn’t any on the Finnish front which is why I left, Comrade Stalin. I don’t see what all these men with guns are so angry about.

  21. So, Deane, looks like you are going to stay with option 1, the cynical priests using a smokescreen for the gullible. You need to read Althusser to have that silly assumption dislodged – see what a gentle person I really am deep down.

    1. I’ve already rejected “cynicism” as a significant motivation of Party priests, Chairman Boer. See above:

      “Party members who couch neoliberalism in Marixst terms remind me of Christians who couch ecology in biblical terms. Rarely are either “cynical”. Rather, they use an existing authority as a placeholder, a master signifier.”

      1. I think give it a rest for a few days, Comrade Furious Deane. Roland has just seen the fall of the Great Socialist Libyan Peoples Jamahiriya and we must be sympathetic. What could rival the Great Stalin’s triumphs in Finland other than the Great Gaddafi’s triumphs in Chad?

  22. Pingback: Berlusconi Youth

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