December 28, 2022
Beijing’s abandonment of its zero-Covid policy has created a spate of propaganda. On one side, US sources use the surge in cases following Beijing’s volte-face on infection control to unfairly tarnish China’s reputation. On the other, pretend Marxists at the congregatio de propaganda fide sinae pump out flagrant “what about?” propaganda to deflect attention from China’s health care crisis.
The New York Times of December 27 offers an emblematic example of Covid-related anti-China propaganda.
Reporters Isabelle Qian and David Pierson write that “China’s hospitals were already overcrowded, underfunded and inadequately staffed in the best of times. But now with Covid spreading freely for the first time in China, the medical system is being pushed to its limits.”
This may be true, but it’s also true of high-income countries. Change the word China to Canada or any of a number of other G7 countries, and you have a serviceable description of the Covid crisis in countries better equipped than China to deal with medical emergencies owing to their greater wealth. That they haven’t used these resources to avert crises in their own health care systems condemns them more than China.
China—ranked 79th of 185 countries in GDP per capita, just below Iraq— is a fairly poor country in per capita terms. Poor countries necessarily have inadequately resourced medical systems, too few hospitals and a dearth of medical staff.
If hospitals in high-income countries are being pushed to the limits by Covid, would we not expect the same in a mid-income country?
Qian and Pierson fault Beijing for failing to use “the past three years” of virus suppression “to bolster its health system by stockpiling medicine and building more critical care units.” They argue that China “could have launched a major vaccination drive targeting the millions of vulnerable older adults who were reluctant to receive a jab or booster,” noting, however, that “China did little of that.”
But could the Chinese have realistically done what Qian and Pierson say they should have done? No country has unlimited resources, especially a middle-income one. At the time Beijing was incurring the costs of implementing zero-Covid, it’s unlikely that it could have taken on the additional fiscal burden of increasing the number of its critical care beds and broadening its vaccine roll-out. That would have been difficult even for a high-income country.
Many countries, including China, coped with Covid by calibrating mitigation measures to hospital capacity. China, with limited hospital capacity and few critical care beds, had to implement very stringent mitigation measures to prevent hospital overcrowding. As high-income countries did, it too followed the strategy of bending the curve, but its relative poverty meant that it had to bend the curve to zero, where G7 countries, with more money and more richly-resourced medical systems, had the luxury of never having to go quite so far.
What’s known now as “bend the curve” was originally known as “bend the curve and raise the line.” “Raise the line” refers to the necessity of expanding hospital capacity, something few countries did.
Here’s the idea: To cope with an increased burden on medical systems caused by the emergence of a novel pathogen, governments ought to reduce the spread of the pathogen through mitigation measures to limit the number of people who will require medical attention at any one time (bend the curve), and increase the capacity of the system to deal with the people who do need attention (raise the line.) Most high-income countries ignored the second part of the formula. Singling out China for the same failure, especially in light of its limited resources, is unfair.
If Qian’s and Pierson’s reporting is partial, the commentary of the avowed Beijing propagandist, Carlos Martinez, is pure diversion. Martinez fires back at criticism of Beijing for prioritizing profits over people in lifting its zero-Covid strategy, by emphasizing Washington’s poor performance in protecting its own citizens from the dangers of Covid.
But pointing out that Washington signed up as one of the killer’s henchman long before Beijing did, hardly absolves Beijing of blame for choosing to follow Washington down the same road. All the same, Martinez tries gamely to draw fire away from Beijing, with an article in China state media CGTN. The Friends of Socialist China, an avowed platform for propagating pro-China narratives, introduces Martinez’s propaganda piece this way:
“The following article … compares the rising hysteria in the Western media over China’s Covid situation with its near-total silence in relation to the ongoing public health crisis in the US. The US has just surpassed 100 million Covid cases; its Covid death toll exceeds 1 million; and its average life expectancy has dropped to 76.4 years – the lowest since 1999. What’s more, as a result of centuries of systemic racism, the impact of this crisis is multiplied for the black, Latino and indigenous population. The media prefers to sensationalize the wave of Covid cases in China – as a form of deflection and diversion, and as part of the generalized campaign of China-bashing. People should be awake to this tactic, and refuse to be fooled by it.”
The argument is that the US media are trying to divert attention from Washington’s execrable pandemic performance by emphasizing China’s challenges with Covid. The problem is that it is the US media themselves that have documented Washington’s Covid failures, from the 100 million cases, to the death toll north of 1 million, to the decline in US life expectancy. If the US media were really trying to obscure these facts, why would they have reported them in the first place? Indeed, the fact that Martinez even knows about “the ongoing health crisis in the US” contradicts his claim that there is “near-total silence” about it.
But then it comes as no surprise that an avowed pro-China propagandist would regard any reporting that casts China in a less than glowing light as sensationalistic and anything less than a total media obsession with developments that cast the United States in an unfavorable light as “near-total silence.” The reality is that the US media have not imposed “near-total silence” on the United States’ Covid struggles any more than they have “sensationalized” China’s. A more plausible account is that they have simply reported the struggles of both, and that propagandists on either side don’t like to hear bad news about their side and delight in hearing bad news about the other side. So, the propagandists try to draw attention to the other side’s bad news.
That’s what Martinez has done. In mentioning Washington’s bad conduct, he and his coreligionists at the congregatio de propaganda fide sinae hope to accomplish what they accuse the US media of trying to achieve: divert and deflect attention. Indeed, the passage from the Friends of Socialist China platform introducing Martinez’s CGTN article can be turned back on the congregatio:
CGTN, the Friends of Socialist China, and Carlos Martinez prefer to sensationalize the United States’ health care crisis as a form of deflection and diversion from Beijing’s struggles with Covid, and as part of the generalized campaign of US-bashing. People should be awake to this tactic, and refuse to be fooled by it.
Clearly, zero-Covid is unsustainable as a long-term project in a world where no other countries are pursuing the same suppression measures. At a certain point, Beijing would have had to transition to a new policy if it wanted to avoid the penalty of retarded economic growth and growing popular recalcitrance. Beijing abandoned zero-Covid for three reasons: pressure from the streets; pressure from business; and because the policy was unsustainable.
If zero-Covid was necessary in a country with limited resources to provide medical care to its citizens, in order to protect hospitals from overcrowding and the medical system from collapse, then the lifting of restrictions will have consequences as dire, if not more so, than those that beset the citizens of the United States, where greater US wealth provided the government with the capability to offer robust protection—a potential that was never realized.
China’s pandemic performance has reflected its nature: not that of a socialist country, which it clearly is not, notwithstanding the fantasies of various dreamers, but a middle-income capitalist country with limited resources, whose strength lies in a strong central government able to make the most of its limited resources in the pursuit of its central aim: the rejuvenation of the country, by means of capitalist development, as a great nation, capable of pushing back its economic frontiers in competition with rival powers—a project known in more flattering terms as championing the development of a multipolar international order, or more honestly, as the return of great power competition and inter-imperialist rivalry.
12 thoughts on ““People should be awake to this tactic, and refuse to be fooled by it””
“By now you probably understand that it is socialist praxis I care about, not socialist theory,” This explains why your understanding of socialism is “flexible” because it is non-existent or at best rudimentary. Theory and praxis go hand in hand, they cannot be separated. Praxis is the process by which a theory is enacted, embodied, or realized. That is what every socialist knows.
Even if we accept the assumption that China is a socialist, in theory, Chinese socialism would still be related to what you call “Marxist Socialism” because neither Deng Xiaoping’s theory nor Xi Jinping Thought rejects Marxism–Leninism or Mao Zedong Thought(which is Marxism–Leninism applied
to China conditions). So in that sense, you would still be supporting the “small congregation of Marxist Socialism”. Naturally, that is something that escapes your realization, since you don’t care about socialist theory.
You asked, “if China was socialist, but no longer is, when did this shift take place?”.
That shift took place in 1978 during Deng’s reforms. He and other reformists thought that Reform(capitalist reform) and Opening Up(linking up with the international economy) would help China develop productive forces by inviting foreign multinational corporations to use China’s vast market and cheap labor, and as consequence, these corporations would bring advanced technology.
The other goal of this strategy was that when China upgrades its technology then it will be able to compete with foreign multinational corporations.
These reforms failed to develop productive forces and technology and made China over-dependent on foreign investment and imported technology. Essentially, Reform destroyed the system of technology development implemented during the socialist era and made China the biggest processing center of foreign multinational corporations.
A good article about this is ‘Has Capitalist Reform Developed China’s Technology and Productive Forces”.
Even though the goals of reform failed, it made China successful at least in the sense that it has moved from the income level of the poorest Third World countries to that of the highest Third World countries but people often ignore the polarization between the Third World countries and the imperialist countries. Namely, China has gone from self-sufficiency and investment according to social needs in the socialist period to dependency and integration into global value chains over which it has absolutely no control in the capitalist period.
China might become socialist in the future(the government claims China will achieve a fully publicly-owned, fully-planned economy in 2100) but at the moment China is a capitalist country. As a matter of fact, they are even actively offering and providing help to the governments of India and the Philipines so they can crush the NPA Army of the Philippines and the Communist Party of India(Maoist).
How this shift happened is explained in many works, recently by a group of Chinese Marxists in their study “共和国的历程 革命与复辟的历史与逻辑-History Project of the Republic: The History and Logic of Revolution and Restoration”.-
Also, there is a study by Chinese Maoists about the current organization of capitalist production in China “中国社会调查研究第一期”.
I will assume that since you have lived in China you do know Mandarin.
“Indeed at times after the second world war capitalism in some European countries provided a faster and better improvement in the life of ordinary people than most comparable socialist countries on the same continent.”
As a “socialist” did you ever ask yourself why? I figure you didn’t. After all, since you don’t care about theory, you wouldn’t know the relation between capitalism and imperialism, and how imperialist countries extract super-profits from developing countries( which are in reality intentionally underdeveloped) by exploiting their non-monopoly capital or exploiting and expropriating their markets, natural resources, land as well as additionally extracting economic rent from monopolies, and banking, highly exploitative “free trade” and “foreign aid” agreements, which in the end allowed(still does today) these Europian countries to finance “faster and better improvement in the life of ordinary people”.
Socialist countries on the European continent didn’t enjoy the privilege of exploiting colonies in Asia, Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, South America, etc unlike many of their Western European “brothers”.
So, naturally, you should continue enjoying and supporting capitalism in China or Norway, but you should acknowledge that support openly and stop calling it socialism because it is obvious that you don’t have even a basic understanding of what socialism is. With that being said, it is never late to learn.
Just to prove the point that I am totally unprincipled and unreliable, and never keep my word, I shall again respond:
But first of all let me tell you that I enjoy your writings, in spite of our differences of opinion.
You refer to Marxist socialism, and I suspect this is defined by certain characteristics; public (or state) ownership of means of production seems to be of overall importance. Subsequently, of existing states, only Cuba and North Korea seem to qualify for such a definition of socialism, whilst China in your opinion is amongst the worst of exploitative capitalist countries, and those poor socialists – the 95 million members of the CCP, and probably a great many non Chinese socialists (such as myself), are, by giving our support to Chinese socialism, guilty of propping up the very capitalism we profess to abhor.
However, in my opinion my support for Chinese socialism is much less harmful to the socialist cause than your support for the socialism of defunct socialist Eastern Europe and present day North Korea.
In your reasoning, when Cuba starts allowing private enterprise (as it now does), is it then no longer socialist? How can North Korea be socialist, when it allowed South Korea to operate a capitalist industrial region (Kaesŏng Industrial Region) within its territory? How much private enterprise is a socialist country allowed to have and still remain socialist? Well, we must be principled, so to be on the safe side and not soil Marxist Socialism, better cross those two countries off your list of socialist countries. Then you are left with none.
My definition of socialism is rather flexible, and I believe that Norway should establish socialism with Norwegian characteristics, as China and Cuba (and even North Korea) have established their distinct versions of socialism.
Ownership of means of social production is important, but there are other defining characteristics of socialism. And I have no problem with a bit of “Texan sharpshooting”, as the definition of socialism must evolve with the times, and sometimes it is somewhat circular, i.e. socialism is what we decide that it it at any given time. Most belief system evolve that way. I would argue that Texan sharpshooting is not less meaningful that your type of sharpshooting, with the target so remote that it cannot be spotted with bare eyes.
For some socialism is just a system, much like a computer operating system, and whether this system provides freedom, hope for the future, good welfare, participation, personal freedom etc. is for them irrelevant. I imagine North Korea, or DDR, would fit such an understanding of socialism. However, I support Chinese socialism not because it is a perfect system, but because it has been remarkably good at doing what a political system should do – improve life for ordinary people. This is explicitly a main task for China´s socialism; for most capitalist countries improvement of the livelihood of ordinary people is more a byproduct of capitalism´s search for productivity, growth and profit. Capitalism, when tempered by socialist movements, has given small Norway an excellent welfare system. Indeed at times after the second world war capitalism in some European countries provided a faster and better improvement in the life of ordinary people than most comparable socialist countries on the same continent. But on the whole, I think we can argue that this is the exception rather than the rule.
By now you probably understand that it is socialist praxis I care about, not socialist theory, and
that I think my flexible definition of socialism is much more fruitful than your rigid definition.
I also admit that sometimes good capitalism is better than bad socialism. And if you call the Chinese system bad capitalism I have no problems with that, as the definition of socialism is not copyrighted.
As your comments about the Chinese society have been thin on substance, but rich on abuse and bombastic statements, I can only conclude that your knowledge about the China and the actual living conditions of ordinary people there must be rather limited (but I am sure you can bombard me with some aggregate statistics). Is it not a good principle to investigate before one concludes?
I wish you all the best in your pursuit of Marxist socialism, but if North Korea is the best your version of socialism can offer I say thanks, but no thanks. Give me Chinese socialism, or even Nordic social democracy, with all their shortcomings and contradictions any day instead! And thanks for letting me know that I, an enemy of socialism, certainly deserve to be excluded from the small congregation of Marxist Socialism – I don´t think I would have enjoyed my life there anyway.
I see that words mean little to you. You prefaced your last comment with the promise that it would be your last, and here you are posting yet another comment. Your contempt for the meaning of words likely accounts for why you abuse the word ‘socialism’ by using it to describe a country whose capitalism, red in tooth and claw, would have shocked Dickens and made Engels tremble with even greater indignation than he did when he wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England.
The difference between the condition of the working class in England in Engels’ time and the condition of the working class in China in our time, is that the English working class was exploited by mainly English capitalists, while the Chinese working class is exploited by an almost complete list of the world’s largest capitalist enterprises, including Elon Musk’s Tesla and Tim Cook’s Apple. Not only does Chinese capital suck, vampire-like on the blood of Chinese labor, so too does US, German, French, and Japanese capital, among others. The feast is organized by the Chinese Communist Party, caterer to the world’s billionaires.
Now, to the question you continue to ask: Has socialism, by my definition, ever existed anywhere? Your question disguises a statement that you made in an earlier comment, so let me bring it to the fore: Marxist socialism is utopian and impossible. Okay, so let us, for the moment, suppose it is. Would that then provide us grounds for altering the definition of socialism to fit China? Of course not. Were I to ask you to shoot at a target you couldn’t hit, the fact that you couldn’t hit it, wouldn’t provide you with a valid reason for saying you had hit it. You couldn’t say, “It’s impossible to hit that target, that’s why I didn’t hit it, so I’m going to say that I did hit it.” And yet that’s the basis of your argument. You say, “It’s impossible to achieve socialism, that’s why China hasn’t done so. Therefore, China is socialist.”
You might object by saying, “No, no. What I’m saying is that Marxist socialism is an impossible ideal. By this impossible ideal no country can be socialist. But China is socialist to the extent it’s possible to be socialist in the real world.” Okay, but this is a circular argument.
• China is socialist to the extent it is possible to be socialist in the real world.
• How do you know that China is socialist to the extent it is possible to be socialist in the real world?
• Because China is socialist to the extent it is possible to be socialist in the real world.
You present an argument that contains within it a premise that assumes the truth of what is to be proved. It’s called question-begging.
Your argument is also, as I said in two previous comments, based on the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. After a Texan shoots at the side of a barn, he draws a circle around his bullet holes and declares the circle to be the target. The Texan defines sharpshooting a posteriori to fit the shots he has taken. Sharpshooting becomes what the Texan does, not whether the Texan meets a previously established standard of performance. You define socialism as the Texan defines sharpshooting—after the fact, and not according to a target established independent of his performance.
You ask, Has there ever been a society based on a Marxist definition of socialism? If we follow the Marxist tradition and define socialism according to a minimal standard of abolishing private property in the means of social production, then, yes, by this minimal standard, socialism has existed and does exist. It has existed in the Soviet Union and the societies established by the Soviet Union in Europe after the Second World War. It exists today in Cuba, along with North Korea. These countries have a far stronger claim to socialism than China does, which has not abolished private ownership of the means of social production and, to the contrary, continues to defend, support, and promote private ownership.
Now, we can have a conversation about whether these societies meet more exacting definitions of socialism, but the point is that they have met a minimal standard that China doesn’t even come close to meeting.
What’s more, even if the minimal standard had never been met, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be met in the future. Capitalism didn’t exist throughout much of human history. Did that make it impossible or utopian? Slavery persisted for millennia. That didn’t make its abolition impossible. The fact that China is capitalist, and not socialist according to a Marxist definition, doesn’t prove that Marxist socialism is impossible. It only proves that China is capitalist.
What we’re left with is something like this: A new slave society arises which calls itself an abolitionist society to differentiate itself from the old. In response to the challenge that it is just like the old society, it replies that abolition is utopian and that the new society is abolitionist so far as abolition is possible—it is, in fact, abolitionist with slavery characteristics.
If we are to denounce this as a fraud, and those who propagate it as perpetrators of a fraud, it’s only because we are plain-spoken and object to fraud.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is capitalism, plain and simple. The term is one of mystification, used with the intent to deceive, either others or oneself. This isn’t to say that China hasn’t made great strides in material development, or that it hasn’t achieved a degree of political independence from the world’s dominant empire. But making great strides in material development and achieving political independence are not definitions of socialism; if they were, the United States from Hamilton forward, Bismarck’s Germany, and Meiji Japan, which also achieved these things, would qualify as socialist states.
One can speculate that the purpose of calling China “socialist” is to mobilize the socialists of the world to support China in its rivalry with other capitalist states for dominance of the world market, as if supporting China amounts to supporting socialism, rather than simply backing one national bourgeoise against various others. Diverting socialists from the task of uniting across national lines, as urged to do by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, and canalizing socialists’ energies into support for Beijing, benefits China’s capitalists, to say nothing of aiding the nationalist project of the Chinese Communist Party, whose principal aim is not to lead a social revolution but to rejuvenate China as a great power. Tellingly, China’s rejuvenation is defined by Beijing in terms of market share targets in the industries of the future, set out in the China Dream. Beijing’s vision of “socialism”, thus, is defined as dominating the world market in emerging industries—that is, beating the United States and other capitalist powers at the capitalist game. People who define China as socialist, from you, Klepsvik, to The Friends of Socialist China, are intentionally or unwittingly acting as recruiting agents among the West’s socialists for Chinese capital, a project that harms socialism, hurts the world’s working class, aids Chinese capitalism in its rivalry with other capitalist states, and strengthens capitalism as a system by diverting socialists from the class war.
Yours is not a socialist project, but a Chinese capitalist one. You’re not a friend of socialism, not a friend of the working class, either in China or elsewhere, and not a socialist, but a friend to the Chinese bourgeoisie and a friend of foreign billionaires who exploit Chinese labor.
Just to avoid that you “amuse” yourself with my comments about socialism, just answer this simple question: In which region, country or state is, or has, socialism, as you define it, been practised?
Or maybe this is a too stupid question to be answered by you…..
Your comments are an endless source of amusement. I particularly like this one. “You seem to have arrived at your socialist belief through study of theory; I arrived at my socialist belief by observing real development – in particular in China.” The fact of the matter is that what you call theory is not theory at all but simply the process of measuring China against a definition of socialism that comports with the way the concept has been understand historically and in the Marxist tradition. What you misrepresent as knowledge based on observation of real development in China is nothing other than altering the definition of socialism to fit China’s capitalist reality (the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy I referred to in an earlier comment.) Our disagreement isn’t about wooly-headed theorizing versus hard-headed practice, but you twisting the meaning of socialism to make capitalist China appear to be what it is not.
Equally amusing: “Poverty eradication in China, on a scale found nowhere else, would also have been unthinkable without socialism.” Scale has nothing to do with it. Is poverty eradication in Canada any less impressive than it is in the USA, because Canada has 10 times fewer people? Or is poverty eradication in the USA much more impressive than in Norway, because the USA is vastly bigger? Size, contrary to the implicit assumption lurking in your comment, makes poverty eradication, easier, not harder. What’s more, are we to suppose that the “golden billion” who enjoy a material standard far above that of the average Chinese resident have been blessed by socialism–that socialism is the reason they’re wealthy? If we’re to follow your reasoning, the wealth of the G7 would “have been unthinkable without socialism.” In effect, what you’ve done is draw an equal sign between economic development and socialism. Since most every country is developing, we can conclude that most every country is socialist.
This comment will be my last, as I am not used to discussions by means of labeling other opinions “fraud”.
My simple question still remains unanswered, so I take it you mean that socialism is not and has not been practised anywhere, and least of all in China. If, after 150 years, socialism is nowhere to be found, then in my understanding your definition of socialism is utopian.
But I beg to disagree, as I see socialism, or elements of socialism, here and there. The tax financed health care system in my country would have been unthinkable without a socialist movement. Poverty eradication in China, on a scale found nowhere else, would also have been unthinkable without socialism.
Per capita wealth is probably not too useful when comparing countries that are vastly different. “Average income” is also a meaningless term in countries like India, China, and probably also the US, but in my own country the difference between average and median is not that great.
I believe it is a fairly well established fact that real blue collar income in the US has increase very little over the last thirty years. That is certainly not the case in China, where similar income over the same period (of course from a much lower base) has increased more than tenfold.
When I started working at a large Chinese industrial enterprise (producing turbines and generators) in Hangzhou in the mid nineties, the Norwegian average income of a skilled worker was about thirty times that of a skilled worker at this enterprise. My guess is that today the difference in income between a skilled worker in urban China and in Norway is about five times, and for an engineer probably around 2-3 times.
And maybe this increase in the Chinese living standard has nothing to do with socialism……….but I somewhat doubt it.
PS! With all your writings about countries far away from your native Canada (Israel/Palestine, Syria, Korea and China) – I do hope to manage to visit all these countries in between your writing. You seem to have arrived at you socialist belief through study of theory; I arrived at my socialist belief by observing real development – in particular in China.
Best regards a pragmatic socialist in Norway
You’ve just conceded that China is capitalist (private ownership of the means of production, division of society into classes, commodified labor exploited by capital, both domestic and foreign) and that the notion of Chinese socialism is a fraud, but that Chinese capitalism is alright because eliminating the exploitation of humanity by humanity is impossible and the Chinese have grown wealthier since 1979 under their capitalist model.
The Chinese have indeed grown wealthier since 1979, but so too have US Americans, to an even greater degree. From 1979 to 2020, the average wealth of a Chinese resident grew by over $10,000, but the average wealth of a US resident grew by over $51,000—in excess of five times more than the increase in per capita Chinese wealth.
GDP per capita, constant $US (World Bank)
Following your logic, we can now talk of a socialism with US characteristics and sing paeans to the US system as the greatest wealth creation engine in history, while heaping scorn on the “utopians” who believe that socialism offers a better alternative for humanity to capitalism.
The argument that cheerleaders for capitalist China make to defend Beijing’s rejection of socialism and collaboration with capitalism, is that Chinese capitalism delivers the goods. Yet since 1979, the G7 countries have outperformed China in per capita GDP terms, delivering the goods to a much higher degree to their citizens than Beijing has to its own. At the same time, the USSR achieved growth equal to Chinese rates in absolute GDP per capita terms without doing what Beijing has done–collaborate with capitalist powers to offer the country’s laborers as the means of gratifying the avarice of an almost complete list of the world’s largest capitalist enterprises.
Not only do you practice a fraud in labelling China socialist, you practice a fraud in arguing that China is achieving extraordinary rates of growth, unequalled in human history. China is, in fact, a poor country, which, in per capita GDP terms, is falling behind the United States. It has developed at a rate no faster than the USSR did, and now that Beijing has backed away from its total collaboration with Washington and thereby provoked US ire, it will develop at an even slower pace, as an increasingly hostile Washington erects obstacles to Chinese development.
But these frauds pale in comparison to the greatest fraud you perpetrate: your insistence that humanity will never emancipate itself from exploitation, and that creating surplus value at Tesla’s Shanghai plant for impossibly low wages to make Elon Musk impossibly rich is the best the Chinese and the rest of humanity can expect from this life.
Again thanks for taking time to respond. I know your arguments well from my socialist friends in Norway, for whom “socialism” is best maintained at seminars, party programs, left wing magazines and newspaper columns. For them, the pure theory of marxist socialism must not be soiled by the murky reality. I often say that the only cause my socialist friends support is that of the Palestinians, but only because this conflict is so totally asymmetric. Should Palestine ever become a real state, and this state had to deal with realities of economic development, inequality, corruption, etc., they would soon cease to support such a country, as it would not be worthy their support.
Of course other countries have developed fast, as China has; many of them by means of colonialism and war (UK, Germany, the US), or as a vassal state (Japan, South Korea), but all these countries are much smaller than China. Why not compare China to Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria or India?
It is also true that some of my defining features of socialism are shared by various versions of capitalism, such as my own country of Norway. Then again, the Norwegian welfare state would have been unthinkable without a strong labour movement, to a large part inspired by socialism.
And of course I do not know that 1.4 billion Chinese consider their system socialist, but it is a similar statement to saying that most people in India are hindus, or that Iran is an islamic society.
When I came to Beijing in 1979, a teacher´s monthly salary was USD 20; today it is about USD 1000. A bicycle at that time had the price of one month´s salary; a bicycle today would cost a few days´salary. It is not impossible that such an increase in income could have been achieved in a capitalist China with profit as its driving force, but I somewhat doubt it.
Is it symptomatic that you have not answered my question, whether a socialist state exists, or has ever existed in our world. It is now more than 150 years since socialism was formulated, and if it still remains a theory with no praxis anywhere, then I call such a theory utopian. Capitalism, on the other hand, exists in a myriad of versions – from the benign to the brutal. Why should not socialism be similar?
Some people find hope in working (or waiting) for “true socialism” to establish itself somewhere. I am less patient, and welcome any attempts at socialism, or even elements of socialism, as implemented by various states, whether it is China, Norway, Cuba or Venezuela; some of these attempts are more successful and longer lasting than others. For me, Chinese socialism belongs to that category.
I note that you, like most people who believe China is socialist, attempt to deal with the problem of China failing to comport with any historical or Marxist definition of socialism, by declaring that these definitions are “utopian.” You say that according to these definitions, you “cannot think of any society that has been, is, or ever will be, socialist.” If no society has ever been, or will ever be, socialist, then in your view, Marxist socialism is impossible. That says a lot about what you believe and why you believe it.
The first “proof” you offer that China is socialist is that “1.4 billion Chinese, and most other peoples and states consider China socialist.” Let’s lay aside that you cannot possibly know that this is what 1.4 billion Chinese and “most other peoples and states” believe. But even if it were possible for you to know what all these people believe, and even if each and everyone of them believed China is socialist, this would mean nothing. Countless people believe all sorts of myths and fairytales. Numberless people believe that Jesus walked on water. Does that mean he did?
You point to “private capital subject to political control” as a defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Private capital was subject to the political control of the Nazis. Did that make Nazi Germany “socialist with German characteristics”? In point of fact, private capital is subject to political control in every capitalist country. In no country in which private capital exists does private capital operate free from regulation and legal strictures–that is free, from political control.
You say that Beijing says “its main task is to improve the livelihood of ordinary people with regard to health, education, material living standard, culture, and participation in working life and politics.” Every government says that this is its mission. That Beijing says the same means only that Beijing is like every other government, not that it is socialist.
You say China´s foreign policy is anti-imperialist. Yet China’s neighbors hardly agree. It would be difficult to characterize the nine-dash line as anti-imperialist or to think of the Belt and Road initiative as anything other than a means of drawing countries into the orbit of Chinese influence.
Your other points:
“China´s development and system is an inspiration for many countries in the third world.”
So too was that of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the Soviet Union. Any country that has developed robustly is an inspiration to low-income countries. That, however, doesn’t mean that countries that become rich and lift their people out of poverty are socialist. Only one of these inspiring countries, the USSR, was socialist. All the rest are capitalist.
You write: “Under Chinese socialism there is … conflict between different … classes.” This is like saying “In a patient free from cancer there are many growing tumors”, or “On a bright, sunny, summer day, people bundle up in parkas.”
You contend that “The Chinese people also see another mission for its socialism – to rebuild the Chinese civilization after more than one hundred years of humiliation from western imperialism.” Rebuilding after a period of humiliation from western imperialism is not a mission of socialism, otherwise Japan, Iran, and the Islamic State—all of which have sought the same goal—have a socialist mission.
You say: “If China is capitalist, all it has achieved in terms of development – eradication of poverty for 850 million people, dramatic increase in material living standard, health and education – must be thanks to capitalism, and one can then only conclude that no known economic and political system is better at improving the conditions in poor countries than capitalism.”
1) In this statement, you concede that China is capitalist.
2) Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, and Japan, among others, all accomplished the same, to a much higher degree, and yet no one would call them socialist.
3) The Soviet Union developed robustly, but significantly, without offering up its people on a platter, as China has done, to an almost complete list of the world’s largest capitalist enterprises to feast on. Beijing has helped the vampires of international capital feed on the blood of Chinese labor, and then called this exploitation “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
4) The point is not whether there is a valid capitalist development path. There is. It’s whether a socialist development path is better.
You ask: “If China is capitalist, how does one explain that it is considered the systemic enemy of the capitalist world?”
It’s not considered the systemic enemy of the capitalist world–at least not by capitalists. If it were, the world’s major capitalist enterprises would not, at this very moment, be appropriating the surplus value created by Chinese labor, with the approval and assistance of the Chinese Communist Party.
It is not the capitalist world that China is the enemy of, but the US empire. China is the enemy of the US empire, in the same way Japan, Germany, and Italy were once enemies of the US empire—as capitalist rivals. China is both a capitalist competitor with one part of the US economy, and a capitalist complement to another part. You’re thinking of the Soviet Union. It was the Soviet Union that was, not China that is, the systemic enemy of the capitalist world. China–where Apple, Tesla, Volkswagen, and a retinue of Western firms grow fat on an almost limitless supply of cheap, disciplined labor and a highly congenial business climate created by strong collaborators in the Chinese Communist Party–has been the capitalist world’s wet dream and a major source of its profits. Anyone who thinks China is the systemic enemy of the capitalist world is living in a fantasy.
Finally, I would note that in your attempt to characterize China as socialist, you have invoked the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. The Texas sharpshooter fires at a bullseye on the barn door and misses. He then draws a new bullseye around his bullet holes. He declares that this is the legitimate bullseye, and announces to the world that he is a great sharpshooter.
Thanks for long and comprehensive answer, but you did not answer my question: Are there any countries, at this point in time, that you would call sosialist?
The American marxist Richard D. Wolff, I seem to recall, refer to Scandinavian countries as socialist, even though most people living in these countries would disagree (myself included), as the Scandinavian countries also have classes, private business people, private ownership of means of production, just as China has (as pointed out by you).
You seem to disregard the fact the 1.4 billion Chinese, and most other peoples and states consider China socialist.
Of course, it is possible to have a more theoretical (or some would say dogmatic) approach as to the definition of what socialism is. However, your idea of socialism is, in my opinion, seems closer to a more utopian communism. According to your definition of socialism, I cannot think of any society that has been, is, or ever will be, socialist. With such a rigid definition of socialism it will remain a theory, and will, in my opinion, never become praxis.
I am not schooled in Marxism, but consider myself a socialist. For the sake of clarity, I also need to add that I have lived in China for more than twenty years, and came there as a student in 1979.
So here is my response:
First of all, all versions of socialism reflect the actual cultural and historical condition of the society where it is i practised. Norwegian socialism will have Norwegian characteristics, as Chinese socialism will have Chinese characteristics.
I believe these are the main features of the Chinese system (which you call capitalist, but most others, including myself, call socialist):
* the main means of production, and all land, is publicly owned; private capital is subject to political control
* the Chinese system´s main task is to improve the livelihood of ordinary people with regard to health, education, materal living standard, culture, and participation in working life and politics
* the system´s theory is marxism, and the basis for its value system is collectivism
* China´s foreign policy is anti-imperialist, and it advocates more democracy in international organisations
* China´s development and system is an inspiration for many countries in the third world
* Under Chinese socialism there is also conflict between different interests and classes; neither production, distribution nor democracy is fully developed
* Socialists in a large and complex society such as China emphasizes leadership competence and centralized government
* the Chinese people also see another mission for its socialism – to rebuild the Chinese civilization after more than one hundred years of humiliation from western imperialism
* if China is capitalist, all it has achieved in terms of development – eradication of poverty for 850 million people, dramatic increase in material living standard, health and education – must be thanks to capitalism, and one can then only conclude that no known economic and political system is better at improving the conditions in poor countries than capitalism
* if China was socialist, but no longer is, when did this shift take place?
– if China is capitalist, how does one explain that it is considered the systemic enemy of the capitalist world?
Socialism, in the Marxist sense, means, at the very least, the abolition of private property in the means of production, the elimination of class oppression, and the end of the exploitation of humanity by humanity.
None of these things apply in China today. Private property in the means of production flourishes. The society continues to be divided by class. The labor of hundreds of millions of people is exploited every day by the owners of capital, both domestic and foreign, in pursuit of capital accumulation.
There are absolutely no grounds on which China can be said to be socialist in any sense in which the word ‘socialism’ has been understood historically or in the Marxist tradition.
If China is not socialist, then what is it? It is a country that pursues development by capitalist means under the guidance of a strong central government, as Bismarck’s Germany, Meiji Japan, and Park’s South Korea did before it. If a dirigiste capitalism in pursuit of economic development is socialism, then we can talk of a German socialism in both the Bismarckian and Nazi eras, a socialist Japan during the Meiji Restoration, and a socialist South Korea during the Park dictatorship. But of course, we don’t, because socialism is not capitalist development guided by a strong central government; it is the abolition of private property in the means of production, the end of class, and the elimination of exploitation.
This is why the autocratic Park government, which used a dirigiste capitalism (complete with SOEs and five year plans) to lift tens of millions of South Koreans out of poverty, is not called socialist. Despite Seoul owning some of the means of production, creating five year plans, and uplifting millions of South Koreans, we still call South Korea capitalist. It didn’t abolish private property in the means of production, didn’t end the division of South Koreans by class, and didn’t eliminate exploitation. Private ownership, class division, and exploitation flourish in South Korea today, as they do in China.
Yet many of the same people who call South Korea capitalist call China socialist. Like Park, Bismarck and the Meiji emperor, the Chinese Communist Party uses its absolute power to chart an economic development path that relies overwhelmingly on the private ownership of capital, on class division, and on class exploitation. The Chinese Communist Party has not abolished private property in the means of production, has not ended the division of Chinese society into class, and has not eliminated exploitation.
Nor has the Chinese Communist Party evinced the slightest interest in the Marxist Holy Grail of ending the division of humanity into nations, taking instead as its principal goal the rejuvenation of China as a great civilization.
For these reasons, China cannot be called socialist.
China is more aptly characterized as Listian. Friedrich List emphasized nations and the struggles between them for economic development. China more strongly follows a Listian path than a Marxist path. In contradistinction to List, Marx emphasized the emancipation of humanity from class oppression, dehumanizing toil, material insufficiency, and the mystifications of nation, religion, and other owning class ideologies. Regarding the latter, Beijing is a major propagator of mystification, promoting Confucianism both at home and around the world.
I have followed your blog for quite some time, and have noticed that you are very quick at labeling countries socialist or capitalist. You seem to be very sure that China in particular is not socialist. In your opinion, are there any countries, at this point in time, that you may call socialist, or is “socialism” an ideal that no country (and possibly no movement) lives up to? As for me, I accept the fact that there are many versions of capitalism (as our Norwegian welfare capitalism is an example of), but also many versions of socialism (the Cuban, the Chinese, etc.).