The most significant component of Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC) Centenary Celebration held on July 1 2021 was the hour-long speech of Xi Jinping, the “core leader”, delivered to the crowd of thousands assembled in Tiananmen Square in a celebratory atmosphere. In his address Xi, as General Secretary of CPC standing ahead of its 25-member Politburo, President of China (the term-limit of which was removed through the 2018 Constitutional Amendment by NPC) and supreme leader of the Armed Forces, called on the members of the CPC to draw strength from the party's history and strive for “China's modernisation and national rejuvenation”. Among other things, the crucial highlights of Xi’s speech were an unequivocal praise of the model of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (so assiduously brought up by CPC since the time of Deng Xiaoping in the post-Mao period) which according to him enabled “China to transform itself from a highly centralised planned economy to a socialist market economy brimming with vitality, and from a country that was largely isolated to one that is open to the outside world across the board”, “national rejuvenation” (a theme consistently upheld by Xi since his ascension in 2012) based on a “strong military” to “guarantee the security of the nation” as a “historical inevitability”, accomplishment of “the first centenary goal in 2021” of eliminating poverty, a task undertaken since the 2012 Congress (an already achieved goal during his tenure), a firm resolve to mobilise towards “the second centenary goal in 2049” (centenary of People’s Republic of China) by transforming it “into a great modern socialist country in all respects” based on a further “acceleration of the modernisation of national defence and the armed forces so as to achieve the target of “complete military modernisation” by 2035, and above all a warning to the rival powers that “no one should underestimate the resolve, the will, and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Exactly one week before (i.e., on June 25) when rehearsals of the upcoming formal celebration were taking place in Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square which was barricaded and closed to the public, China's State Council Information Office had issued a white paper entitled "China's Political Party System: Cooperation and Consultation," elaborating on the distinctive characteristics and strengths of the country's political system, including a highlight on the advantages of the CPC's path in terms of confidence and governance ability. The white paper claimed the political system as the product of a combination of Marxist political party theory and China's reality, which is able to realize the universality of interest representation and guarantee the effectiveness of national governance. On the same day, at a press briefing on the white paper, vice minister of the United Front Work Department of CPC Central Committee Xu Yousheng said that China's achievements prove that China's political party system is the "best cat to catch mice" (revealingly echoing the famous quote from Deng Xiaoping when he initiated the process of “four modernisations”: "It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice." Further, while mentioning China's party system as a "great contribution of political civilization of mankind"), i.e., the most effective tool capable of accomplishing neoliberal development. Xu also stressed that “the world's political party system is diverse, and there is not and cannot be a universal model”. Meanwhile, global corporate media continue with their hate-campaigns on what they call the “disastrous political campaigns” in the early years of Communist rule on the one hand and, showering eulogy on China’s rise to “market reforms” during the neoliberal period that have created the world’s second-largest economy, with a superpower status rivalled only by the United States, on the other. At the same time, many self-professed communist parties which still uphold China as their role model, have extended their wholehearted greetings to CPC on this auspicious occasion. A typical example is that of the CPI (M), which has fully appreciated China’s success in dealing with the current political-economic issues counterpoising it to “International finance capital-led imperialist neoliberal globalisation showing its total bankruptcy in providing any solution”, as if China is resisting neoliberal-corporatisation.
A Brief History
The Communist Party of China (CPC) founded mainly by the initiatives of two revolutionaries, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, with the help of the Far Eastern Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Far Eastern Secretariat of the Communist International in July 1921 has turned 100 during the month of July 2021. Mao Zedong was among the 12 delegates who attended the founding meet held in Shanghai. During both the first phase of CPC from the 1920s to 1949 when Chinese Revolution was successfully completed liberating the country from feudalism and imperialism, and the second phase from 1949 to the 1970s during which the fulfilment of revolutionary and democratic tasks was proceeding, Mao Zedong was at the helm ideologically and politically guiding the Communist Party. Thus, during this long period spanning 1920s to 1970s, in spite of shifting trends of rightist obstruction and leftist deviation, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought remained as the guiding ideology of CPC.
Chinese Revolution of 1949 that broke the imperialist hierarchy inherited from the colonial world order on the one hand, and demolished internal feudal bastion on the other, was an exceptional world historic event having no parallels. After 1949, China traversed a unique path of social, economic and cultural transformation that brought about unparalleled changes in people’s lives. Collectivisation of agriculture, ensuring people’s needs, raising production through appropriate scientific and technological intervention, overcoming malnutrition and illiteracy, integration of manual and mental work, construction of factories and workplaces near farms and schools, comprehensive expansion of health and education, etc., all under proper integration with the commune system, state-led advances in scientific research and higher-professional education, development of heavy industry and provision of a whole set of social and economic services, and in similar other fields, Chinese experience was unparalleled during the quarter century of socialist transformation that abruptly ended in the seventies. Committees of peasants and workers controlled their workplaces while peoples’ movements together with intellectuals undertook social and cultural requirements. One of the major roles of the army was aiding the people in their dwelling and workplaces. To be precise, the self-reliant commune system, ‘the iron rice bowl of socialism’ that China built up during the quarter century of socialist transformation ensured food, housing, health education and employment to all.
During this period of socialist construction, the CPC undertook many political interventions through social and cultural revolutions with a view to transform the relations of production, revolutionise the superstructure and expand democracy for the people exposing and dealing with bureaucratic tendencies in the Party. Revolutionary committees of party cadres at appropriate levels, technical experts and peoples’ communes were involved in this process. For instance, taking in to account the glaring issues involved in the accepted ‘mainstream development paradigm’ that came to be as conceptualised in the idea of “catching up with the West” that got recognition in Soviet Union, Mao brought out his revealing proposal on “On The Ten Major Relationships” in the 1950s such as: 1. The Relationship between heavy industry on the one hand and light industry and agriculture on the other; 2. The relationship between industry in the coastal regions and industry in the interior; 3. The relationship between economic construction and defence construction; 4. The relationship between the state, the units of production and the producers; 5. The relationship between central and local authorities; 6. The relationship between the Han nationality and the minority nationalities; 7. The relationship between party and non-party; 8. The relationship between revolution and counter-revolution; 9. The relationship between right and wrong; and 10. The relationship between China and other countries. Though rudimentary, the conceptualisation on “The Ten Major Relationships” put forward by Mao was capable of challenging the mainstream capitalist development paradigm and to deduce effective strategies for advancing along the road of transition to socialism.
And much before this, in 1950, to avoid a repetition of the mistakes in Soviet Union, Mao had raised the question of streamlining state apparatus and reducing military and administrative expenditures as fundamental prerequisites for achieving a “better financial and economic situation”. Mao was very critical of the manner in which peasants were “squeezed” in Soviet Union in the guise of industrialisation and development. At a time when peasant agriculture at a global level is confronting the biggest existential threat today as a result of the onslaught from corporate capital, the observation made by Mao 70 years ago on sustaining agriculture is relevant even now. And regarding the building up of people’s political power at the local level, Mao said: “ We must not follow the example of the Soviet Union in concentrating everything in the hands of the central authorities shackling the local authorities and denying them the right to independent action.” While appealing to the people to firmly reject the decadent bourgeois systems and ideologies of foreign countries, Mao pursued a dialectical approach of “learning the advanced sciences and technologies” and adopting whatever scientific from foreign countries. He opined: “Neither the indiscriminate rejection of everything foreign, whether scientific, technological or cultural, nor the indiscriminate imitation of everything foreign...has anything in common with the Marxist attitude…” – a perspective that Mao upheld even in CPC’s relation with the Comintern from the very beginning. However, though aware of the deviations in Soviet Union, the CPC led by Mao was always in the forefront of acknowledging the great achievements made by the first socialist country under Lenin and Stalin and was quick to defend Soviet Union against anti-communist propaganda by imperialist centres.
But with the ascendancy of Khrushchevian revisionism that, along with a vicious campaign against Stalin, put forward many prognoses such as “weakened imperialism”, “civilized imperialism”, “disappearance of colonialism” and theorised on “peaceful transition” from capitalism to socialism along with the apolitical prognosis of economic development as the principal task of national liberation movements abandoning class struggle against imperialism, etc., the socialist camp faced a grave setback. In this context, through its polemics against the Soviet leadership called Great Debate of the 1960s that laid down the General Line of the International Communist Movement, the CPC led by Mao Tsetung systematically exposed capitalist restoration in Soviet Union and put forward the general approach towards the neocolonial phase of imperialism. Situating neocolonialism as the new phase of imperialism which is a “more pernicious and sinister form of colonialism” led by US imperialism in the postwar period, the CPC went on characterising the revisionist Soviet leadership as “apologists of neocolonialism”, and explained how social imperialism (socialism in words and imperialism in deeds) converges with bourgeois ideology and practice. Meanwhile from 1956 onward, led by Liu Shao Chi, rightist trends with unilateral emphasis on “productive forces” came to the fore within CPC too, and in the inner-party struggle that followed often saw Mao holding a position of a minority within the Party even as he continued his effort for “an integration of the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution”.
It was in this context, and in view of the emerging internal and external threats, that Mao upholding mass line launched the Cultural Revolution to unleash the revolutionary democratic power of the politicised masses for carrying forward socialist advancement and thus to ward off a repetition of the capitalist restoration in China. Cultural Revolution that began in 1966, in brief, was a vigorous political struggle against the capitalist tendencies and bureaucratic corruption by raising the class consciousness of the people and revolutionalise the superstructure along with increase in production through transforming production relations. However, as already noted by Marxist-Leninists, struggle against rightist deviation led to the emergence of left sectarian tendencies including even intolerances committed on scholars and cultural activists. Taking advantage of the fierce inner-party struggle, rightist forces even penetrated into the armed forces curtailing people’s initiatives and mass movements. Meanwhile, Lin Biao, who was keeping a low profile after his military initiatives in the 1940s, came forward and took on a leading role in the late 1960s with his adventurist positions.
These domestic repercussions had their international ramifications too. The CPC’s formulation on neocolonialism and analysis of the the postwar phase of imperialism that unravelled the neocolonial strategy and tactics employed by both US imperialism and Soviet social imperialism which were inspiring to proletariat and oppressed peoples of the world, could not be carried forward in the proper perspective. The ascendancy of left sectarian line led by Lin Biao that interpreted “imperialism heading for total collapse and socialism advancing towards world-wide victory,” was a camouflaged acknowledgement of the prognosis of “weakened imperialism” already put forward by Khrushchevian revisionism in the 1950s. And the erroneous conceptualization of “Soviet social imperialism” as a bigger evil than American imperialism also got acceptance among the left adventurists at a global level. This approach including a host of retrograde moves had its concrete manifestation in July 1971 when Henry Kissinger made his secret visit to Beijing to prepare Richard Nixon’s head-of-state visit to China in February 1972. The “theory of three worlds” which Deng Xiaoping put forward at his UN General Assembly Speech on April 10, 1974 that suggested “Soviet social imperialism” as more dangerous than US imperialism that altogether disoriented both the task of the international proletariat and national liberation movements was the logical corollary of this rightist deviation garbed in sectarianism. With this, the whole understanding on neocolonialism evolved by CPC as part of its erstwhile critique of Soviet revisionism was also thrown into the dustbin. It was also helpful to US-led imperialism that was facing one of the biggest postwar crises during the early seventies to reorient the neocolonial accumulation process altogether throwing away the welfare mask and resorting to naked global plunder through embracing neoliberalism.
In the meanwhile, with the 10th Congress of CPC in 1973, the sectarian trend led by Lin Biao who “waved the red flag to defeat the red flag” being already fallen in 1971, the stage was set for the rehabilitation of the rightist Deng and his cohorts who had to face severe setbacks during the Cultural Revolution and against whom (the Liu-Deng team) Mao had been consistently carrying his ideological struggle since the 1940s. Taking advantage of the weaknesses of Cultural Revolution, Deng emerged powerful, and colluding with the centrist forces many of whom were elected to the 1973 Central Committee, it was relatively easy for him to mount a counterrevolutionary coup following the death of Mao in 1976, leading to the rehabilitation of all revisionist guards and ushering capitalist restoration in China. After consolidating the reins of power in his hands, from 1978 onward, “socialism with Chinese characteristics” was added to the core ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought fundamentally altering the political-ideological line that CPC was pursuing since 1949.
China’s Capitalist Road
Much has already been written on China’s capitalist transformation during the post-Mao period and hence a detailed analysis is not intended here. Restoration of capitalism meant transformation of the People’s Republic into a state capitalist one led by a Party which transformed itself as bureaucratic bourgeois in character. Revolutionary literature of yester years including writings on Cultural Revolution as well as ideological thinking with a revolutionary orientation were censored and suppressed and many supporters of Mao were persecuted. Workers’ strike and critique of economic policies were dealt with based on the official diktat of “development as an absolute principle”. People’s communes that worked in harmony with state-owned enterprises (SOEs) across China were dismantled and all erstwhile guarantees to food, shelter, health, education and other basic needs were systematically taken away. Along with the catchword “it is glorious to get rich”, Deng’s, already noted oft-quoted dictum, "It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice," was widely popularised on accounted of its implicit depoliticising mission. As a corollary of this, at the international level, since the 1980s, China altogether abandoned the support and solidarity that PRC had been extending to revolutionary movements and national liberation struggles.
The Chinese political-economic developments since the adoption of the slogan “it is glorious to get rich” and announcement of the so called “four modernisations” have been dramatic. Throughout the 1980s the major focus of CPC and the Chinese regime was to lay the badly needed essential foundations for sustained expansion of capitalism. An effective initial move was the merger/integration of the bureaucratic state with private businesses and orienting state-owned banks toward liberally supporting private businesses. Along with this, from the very beginning, unlike neocolonially dependent countries like India, with its own capability to take independent political-economic decisions, the bureaucratic state of China could enter into various joint ventures between state-owned enterprises and foreign corporate capital and adapt itself to the most modern and state-of-the-art technologies on its own terms. Efforts were also initiated to transform the country as a low-cost export platform making use of China’s inexhaustible source of cheap labour and a number of special economic zones came in to being in many coastal regions of the country. The privatisation strategy got a relative shift since the 1990s, with more focus on FDI inflows. Taking advantage of the cheapest labour, liberal tax and environmental regulations, corporate MNCs and global consultancies quickly made China their favourite destination. This enabled China to become one of the major partners in the neoliberal international division of labour and integrate itself with global finance capital. In conformity with the inherent speculative character of corporate accumulation, real estate, financial markets and other money spinning businesses also flourished in China. To put in brief, thus, from the 1980s, Party-led bureaucratic state of China was transformed into an apparatus committed to safeguard the interests of corporate capital at the expense of workers, peasants and toiling people.
Thus by the turn of the 21st century, China’s bureaucratic state monopoly capitalists had succeeded in building up a number of Chinese monopolies exporting capital to almost a hundred countries (and to more than 125 countries as of 2021). As world’s low-cost production base, China has become successful in capturing proportionately greater share of commodity markets not only in Afro-Asian-Latin American dependent countries, but even in the US itself. At the same time, this Chinese integration with global market has coincided with the emergence of fast moving ‘frontier’ or new generation technologies including digitisation that were practically insignificant in the 20th century. And closely integrated with the bureaucratic state, many MNCs from China have become pioneers in economic innovation and technological application of these technologies to production at a maddening speed. Many Chinese conglomerations like “BAT” (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) have reportedly eclipsed or are at par with their US-based counterparts called “Silicon Six” (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Microsoft) both at economic and technological levels. In close integration with these digital giants China has become the leading country in pioneering digital currency initiatives that is capable of challenging the hegemony of US dollar as the international currency.
As a manifestation of the capitalist transformation and growth in the share of private sector in country’s GDP which now hovers around 70 percent, wealth concentration and inequality (and the concomitant corruption too) in China have risen to horrific levels often greater than that of the US. According to 2021 Hurun Global Rich List, during the last five years, China has added 490 billionaires (compared to 160 in the US) to be the first country in the world to have 1058 billionaires, more than the combined total of US, India and Germany. In view of this emerging trend, to achieve close integration of the bureaucratic state and corporate capital or the merger between political power and economy, the 16th Party Congress of CPC held in 2002 had resolved to formally extend party membership to corporate CEOs too (the process of inducting wealthy people into the party was initiated by Deng in 1978 itself). Consequently, within two decades, around half of the Chinese billionaires have become members of the higher committees and the proportion of millionaires and billionaires holding membership in the 92 million-member party today is very high compared to the general population.
No doubt, the socio-economic repercussions of the more than four decades of capitalist development are of unparalleled dimensions. One of its conspicuous outcomes has been the prevalence of what is called ‘uneven development’ on account of the abandonment of the principle of ‘walking on two legs’, an aspect highlighted by Mao in his speech on The Ten Major Relationships. Amidst the spectacular GDP over the last four decades, as is obvious, the self-sufficient and self-reliant communes were almost destroyed leading to horrific displacement of the people from agriculture and country-side and being forced to migrate to urban centres and special economic zones to be subjected to extreme forms of slave labour and super-exploitation. Despite the spectacular economic growth, unlike the western imperialist countries where only 2 percent of the working people is employed in agriculture, around 35 percent of the Chinese working people is still subsisting on agriculture whose contribution to GDP has dwindled to around 10 percent. On the other hand, in spite of the lowest wage rate which is the major attraction on the part of both foreign and domestic capital, the Chinese labour absorption rate in industry, similar to other countries, is relatively low. And the tertiary sector, though growing, is not capable enough to absorb the vast ‘reserve army’ of the unemployed. At the same time, speculation, real estate, financial swindles, etc. are flourishing in China and it is also not immune to the intensifying neoliberal crises as its economy is also interwoven with the global commodity and financial markets. All these are accentuating the contradiction between Chinese state monopoly capitalism on the one hand, and working class and broad masses of people on the other.
Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics
Obviously, “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is a convenient camouflage used by the “capitalist roaders” to cover-up the capitalist trajectory of China since the 1980s and its eventual transformation as a leading imperialist power, thereby claiming political legitimacy for hoodwinking not only the people of China but the working class and oppressed peoples of the world too. The same rhetoric of ‘socialism’ was effectively used to deal with the Tiananmen flare-up of the late eighties mainly led by liberal intellectuals, students and dissenting sections within the party who aspired political freedom commensurate with ‘market reforms’ and encouragement given to private capital. And for the western imperialists as well as for imperialist think-tanks and neoliberal ideologues the world over, China’s claim on socialism has become an ideological weapon in their anti-communist propaganda. Meanwhile, based on the laws of motion of capital in the imperialist era as elucidated by Lenin, bureaucratic state monopoly capitalism of Chinas strengthening itself from its growing integration with global market was transforming itself into imperialism. During the late 1990s, the reunification of Hong Kong (1997) and Macao (1999), both being nerve centres of global finance capital, gave further impetus to this process. China’s formal entry in 2001 into WTO, often characterised as the third neo-colonial pillar together with IMF and World Bank, extended it more manoeuvrability in imperialist market and finance capital. By the time of the world economic crisis of 2008, China had become the biggest commodity exporter and was on its way to become the largest capital exporter at par with the US. Along with its active participation in US-led neocolonial political-economic institutions, today, imperialist China is leading several institutions, groupings and initiatives such as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), BRICS including New Development Bank (NDB), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), etc., Despite its rhetoric on “socialism”, completely repudiating Marx’s perspective on military spending as “non-productive waste of part of the social product”, in tandem with its growing imperialist status, during 2000 and 2020 Chinese military spending galloped by 20 times reaching around $260 billion second to US. In the fields of war and space technologies including missiles, bombers, aircraft carriers, etc., Chinese advancement is at par with that of US.
Today, China’s capital export, transforming many countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, etc., as heavily dependent on Chinese capital investment, crossing the borders of Asia, has penetrated to the entire African continent and parts of Europe, is now spreading even to Latin America. While Italy has become part of BRI, disregarding US diktats in NATO, both Germany and France have come forward for broad-based EU-China economic and trade relations. Relegating both US and EU imperialists to the background, Chinese imperialism with its advanced technologies have already become the biggest capital exporter to Africa including the establishment of military bases in countries like Djibouti. The decade since the 2008 World Economic and Financial Crisis followed by the Pandemic saw massive Chinese corporate capital penetration under the camouflage of “development aid” to ports, railroads, roads, pipelines and telecommunications. Quite logically, together with intense plunder of Africa’s precious natural resources and raw materials and super-exploitation of labour, this Chinese neocolonial penetration is also resulting in ruination of the peasantry, unemployment and mass poverty. CPC‘s “Made in China 2025” initiative that envisages a relative alteration from China’s role as a cheap-labour economy to a technology intensive producer and capital exporter also aims at grabbing a greater share in global capital market from its imperialist rivals, especially the US.
Western Notions of Capitalist/Imperialism versus China
A striking aspect to be noted here is that mechanical/western notions of class/property relations and corporate governance do not fit in with the privatisation/corporatisation process in China. The most crucial point is that China being an erstwhile socialist country was delinked from the postwar laws of motion or logic of finance capital during the quarter century from 1949 to mid-1970s. Hence it had the opportunity to evolve a fundamentally different and independent political-economic trajectory till its capitalist restoration in the post-Mao period. As such, rather than a stereo-typed or mechanical analysis that is incapable of unravelling China’s capitalist path and eventual transformation to imperialism, what requires is an analysis of Chinese capitalism/imperialism according to concrete conditions. Moreover, Chinese capitalist roaders and bureaucratic bourgeoisie have learned lessons from the altogether disintegration of the Party itself in Soviet Union. Therefore, since the beginning of its capitalist transformation effectively utilising the industrial and technological base already laid down during the socialist period, the party bureaucracy’s strict supervision was strictly enforced for unleashing the privatisation process, at all levels. Its handling of the Tiananmen unrest was also possible due to this. As such, to ensure constant and strict surveillance, party units or party cells are functioning in almost all business enterprises irrespective of domestic or foreign. Presence of appropriate party representative in the board meetings of companies is the accepted norm, and the decision to give party membership to corporate CEOs is connected with this. Even Walmart, world’s biggest US-based MNC which a few years back was having more than 70 percent of its procurement from China, and which never allowed even unions in its US stores, had to allow party cells in its Chinese stores. Thus there is no compromise on enforcing the bureaucratic-bourgeois state dictatorship on the unhindered corporatisation flourishing in China.
Under Xi Jinping this trend of bureaucratic streamlining of private corporate sector has strengthened further. For instance the high profile Jack Ma of Alibaba (whose e-commerce empire at one time was estimated as bigger than that of the US and EU combined) who until recently was the acclaimed “global face” of corporate China, has suddenly fallen from grace, and being dropped from public view, for the last eight months there is no information on him. Meanwhile, according to reports, the Chinese “regulators” have embarked on “rectification” on account of his outspokenness and public criticism of the bureaucratic financial regulations and reluctance to follow them. This has resulted in a sudden downturn in the fortunes of Ma and as reported shares of Alibaba have slumped around 30 percent since November 2020. Reports also mention on the warnings issued to more than a dozen technology companies to comply with financial regulations now supervised by the People's Bank of China.
However, this does not in any way construe to mean any reversal of the corporate wealth accumulation process in China that is proceeding at a fast pace. What took place has been a removal of the hurdles that stand in the way of an appropriate blending of China’s powerful bureaucratic state regime and private corporate capital that is successfully fulfilling the “success story” of Chinese imperialism. The latest addition of Xi Jinping Thought to the core ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought is intended to accomplish this task. In fact, this new formulation is the antithesis of the ideological-political line pursued under Mao during 1949-76. In the meanwhile, presidential term-limit and so called ‘collective leadership’ that have been there were being taken away by Xi, which liberal analysts are interpreting as a move away from “Deng era” to “Mao era”. This makes little sense in the socialist direction since its aim is to promote an image of ‘socialism’ by appeasing the degenerated and depoliticised ‘left’ even as an all-out agenda of bureaucratisation, corporatisation and militarisation and, above all, an assertive role of Chinese imperialism at the global level are in store, which is evident from Xi’s speech, as noted in the Introduction of this article.