Magazine article Monthly Review

China and Socialism: Market Reforms and Class Struggle

Magazine article Monthly Review

China and Socialism: Market Reforms and Class Struggle

Article excerpt

Introduction: China and Socialism

China and socialism ... during the three decades following the 1949 establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC), it seemed as if these words would forever be joined in an inspiring unity. China had been forced to suffer the humiliation of defeat in the 1840-42 Opium War with Great Britain and the ever-expanding treaty port system that followed it. The Chinese people suffered under not only despotic rule by their emperor and then a series of warlords, but also under the crushing weight of imperialism, which divided the country into foreign-controlled spheres of influence. Gradually, beginning in the 1920s, the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong organized growing popular resistance to the foreign domination and exploitation of the country and the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek. The triumph of the revolution under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party finally came in 1949, when the party proclaimed it would bring not only an end to the suffering of the people but a new democratic future based on the construction of socialism.

There can be no doubt that the Chinese revolution was a world historic event and that tremendous achievements were made under the banner of socialism in the decades that followed. However, it is our opinion that this reality should not blind us to three important facts: first, at the time of Mao's death in 1976, the Chinese people remained far from achieving the promises of socialism. Second, beginning in 1978 the Chinese Communist Party embarked on a market-based reform process that, while allegedly designed to reinvigorate the effort to build socialism, has actually led in the opposite direction and at great cost to the Chinese people. And finally, progressives throughout the world continue to identify with and take inspiration from developments in China, seeing the country's rapid export-led growth as either confirmation of the virtues of market socialism or proof that, regardless of labels, active state direction of the economy can produce successful development within a capitalist world system.

As much as we were also inspired by the Chinese revolution, we have for some time believed that this continuing identification by progressives with China and its "socialist market economy" represents not only a serious misreading of the Chinese reform experience but, even more important, a major impediment to the development of the theoretical and practical understandings required to actually advance socialism in China and elsewhere.

As we will argue in this book, it is our position that China's market reforms have led not to socialist renewal but rather to full-fledged capitalist restoration, including growing foreign economic domination. Significantly, this outcome was driven by more than simple greed and class interest. Once the path of pro-market reforms was embarked upon, each subsequent step in the reform process was largely driven by tensions and contradictions generated by the reforms themselves. The weakening of central planning led to ever more reliance on market and profit incentives, which in turn encouraged the privileging of private enterprises over state enterprises and, increasingly, of foreign enterprises and markets over domestic ones. Although a correct understanding of the dynamics of China's reform process supports the Marxist position that market socialism is an unstable formation, this important insight has largely been lost because of the continuing widespread belief by many progressives that China remains in some sense a socialist country. This situation cannot help but generate confusion about the meaning of socialism while strengthening the ideological position of those who oppose it.

Many other progressive scholars and activists dismiss arguments about the meaning of socialism as irrelevant to the challenges of development faced by people throughout the world. They look at China's record of rapid and sustained export-led growth and conclude that China is a development model, with a growth strategy that can and should be emulated by other countries. …

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