There has been a discussion on China’s socialism, with criticisms from not only the Right wings but also the Left. The latter question, for instance, in terms of the principles of the Communist Manifesto. In this section, we seek to discuss some aspects in that context. But before that, let both the camps see this data :
BPL population in China was 3.3 percent compared to that of USA, Sweden, UK, France and S.Korea with 14-15 percent, as per CIA Fact Book’s latest available data. Germany 16.7, Japan 16.1, Hong Kong 19.9, Russia 13.3, India 21.9.
In Chapter 2, titled as Proletarians and communists, the Manifesto suggests a list of 10 measures of socialism. They are popular and taken as a Guideline.
- Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
- A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
- Abolition of all right of inheritance.
- Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
- Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State,by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
- Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
- Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
- Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
- Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country,
by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
- Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form.
Combination of education with industrial production, &c., &c.
Russian model was striving to take these measures and attain these goals, and was generally acclaimed for that. That model was often regarded as THE model for socialism. There appeared to be no much controversy about it, at least in the early decades. However, it was riven with bitter debates, for instance on the way and pace of collectivization of farming. It was during Gorbachev phase that past bitterness was all brought out. Before Gorbachev too, there was the phase of modern revisionism, followed by that of social imperialism, before Soviet Union collapsed, and CPSU was dissolved by its own leadership.
China was always a controversy: Its model of revolution, different from Russia’s, was not appreciated to begin with. Mao and his line needed a few decades before they were accepted within the CPC. China’s path of construction was also different from Russia’s, was always riven with controversy, both within and outside CPC. Within China and CPC, a so-called two-line struggle was always there. There was the Soviet-China rift, the Great Debate, and views were polarized. During 1970s and later, the Soviet model never recognized China as socialist. The GPCR – Cultural Revolution – also intensified polarization, again both within and outside CPC, some hailing it and others condemning it. Post-Mao China also became a big controversy.
Despite all the controversies, China has become a force to reckon with, in every sense, feared by the West, admired by the most of the Third World. China is practising what it calls as Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Based on the above suggested measures or principles, however, today’s China is often condemned to have deserted socialism and taken to the capitalist road. This kind of criticism, it must be stated, is either motivated or based on utopian views of socialism. The Manifesto itself was very carefully worded in elucidating these measures or principles, as we shall see now. But before that see what Lenin boldly and very early in 1899 wrote:
“ We do not regard Marx’s theory as something complete and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation of the science which socialists develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life. We think that an independent elaboration of Marx’s theory is especially essential for Russian socialists, for this theory provides only general guiding principles, which, in particular, are applied in England differently than in France, in France differently than in Germany, and in Germany differently than in Russia”
(Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 4, p.211. Emphasis added.)
Marx and Engels themselves stressed :
The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848 … this programme has in some details been antiquated….But then, the Manifesto has become a historical document which we have no longer any right to alter.
(Preface to The 1872 German Edition. Emphasis added.)
Ten years later they added:
The Communist Manifesto had, as its object, the proclamation of the inevitable impending dissolution of modern bourgeois property. But in Russia we find, face-to-face with the rapidly flowering capitalist swindle and bourgeois property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land owned in common by the peasants. …
The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.
(Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, January 21, 1882, London)
It must be noted that even in today’s China, land is NOT private property, but the whole of it is owned by the State, i.e., the People’s Republic. And it should serve as the starting point for a communist development.
Critics of China are often utopian socialists dreaming of utopian communism. See what Engels wrote :
Nevertheless, when it appeared, we could not have called it a socialist manifesto. In 1847, two kinds of people were considered socialists. On the one hand were the adherents of the various utopian systems,…The section of the working class, however, which demanded a radical reconstruction of society, convinced that mere political revolutions were not enough, then called itself Communist. It was still a rough-hewn, only instinctive and frequently somewhat crude communism. Yet, it was powerful enough to bring into being two systems of utopian communism.. (Frederick Engels, Preface May 1, 1890)
The utopians detest many things in words, forgetting historical evolution, and what Marx and Engels stressed :
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part, says the Manifesto, 1848. Engels reiterated: “The Manifesto does full justice to the revolutionary part played by capitalism in the past.” ( Engels, 1893 Edition)
It should however be noted that the Manifesto was for scientific socialism and not variants of Reactionary Socialism, discussed in Chapter 3, like :
- Feudal Socialism, B. Petty-Bourgeois Socialism, C. German or “True” Socialism,
- Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism, and Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism.
India had its own Avadi socialism of Nehru, Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao socialism, and BJP too has its Gandhian socialism.
The above measures suggested in the Manifesto are mostly taken by orthodox Marxists, more so in India, as edicts, like Vedas or fatwas are for some. They forget Marxism is NOT a dogma but only a guide to action.
Mao steered away from Russian models of revolution as well as of socialist construction. Post-Mao China categorically rejected dogmatism, ossified thinking and variants of Reactionary Socialism mentioned above. The Deng-led CPC, post-Mao,did not hesitate to say it was opposed to egalitarian and utopian socialism, which are far different from scientific socialism. Anti-Deng critics tell us that he was twice purged by Mao, but conceal that he was twice restored to leadership positions by Mao himself.
The critics do not notice the care with which the Manifesto was drafted. Nor they care to see the historical context:
Marx and Engels in their Communist Manifesto had envisaged Socialism in most advanced capitalist countries to begin with. But that did not happen that way. Under Lenin , Russia, the most backward country in Europe, had its revolution and it established socialism in one country. Mao’s China witnessed revolution in a most backward Eastern country with little of capitalism. Meanwhile USSR had degenerated and collapsed and so did many East European countries. The Soviet party was dissolved by its own leaders in 1991 August. Attempts to topple People’s China have been made, more so in the form of students’ revolt earlier in 1989. Lenin had said Capitalism was on its deathbed. But it had its own lease of life with technological revolution, combined with reforms (like those mentioned by Galbraith) and concessions to labor aristocracy. With the collapse of USSR, attempts at unipolar world led by US went on. China and CPC need to be understood in that context.
Further, China had to face unique problems and challenges
For instance, China has only 7 percent of world’s arable land but needs to feed almost 25 percent of world’s population. Out of 1.87 billion hectares (4.62 billion acres) of farmland in the world, China has 165.2 million hectares, compared to 167.8 in USA, and 179.8 in India.
Only less than one fifth (18 percent) of land in China is farmland, compared to some European countries that have 50 to 80 percent of their land mass for farming. UK, Netherlands, Spain, Poland, for instance have 60 to 70 percent, and need to feed much smaller populations. India also has farmland in that range (60 to 70 percent) though it needs to feed a big population. (USGS study of 2017 November). Despite such constraints, China has fairly good food security and achieved excellent levels of nutrition for its people. It is thanks to its socialism.
According to another estimate, India with about 40 crore acres of farmland produces about 280 million tons of food grains, compared to China’s 30 crore acres and over 500 million tons.
India and China are at low stage of development , and have huge ( more than 50 to 65 percent of their) populations that must depend on agriculture, compared to US and Europe that are highly developed. Hardly 3 to 5 percent of their populations are engaged in agriculture.
One country, Two systems.
Then there is the unique historical challenge China, under Deng’s leadership, has undertaken : One country, Two systems. Hong Kong and Macau became part of China in 1997 and 1999 respectively on that basis, China assuring them they can pursue their model of capitalism and administration for 50 years. And their economy was huge, almost 20 percent of China’s in 1997-99 period. Now with China’s rapid growth, their economy has been dwarfed relative to China (PRC).HK’s economy was 27 percent of PRC’s in 1993, but only 3 percent in 2017. Per capita GDP of HK is 4 to 5 times that of PRC. HK’s is a most free capitalist economy in the world.
It is in these contexts one has to view China, its primary stage of socialism, and socialism with Chinese characteristics.
BPL population in china was 3.3 percent compared to that of USA Sweden, UK, France and S.Korea with 14-15 percent, as per CIA Fact Book’s latest available data. And this is so despite China’s constraints discussed above.
Criticisms made that China is treading a capitalist road are not found valid when one carefully studies the Manifesto, and the way the above 10 measures were suggested. Advocates of GPCR, which was just one part of Mao, equate it with Mao’s Thought, and condemn development of productive forces as a key task. See how the Manifesto deals with the subject.
One can see Manifesto is very measured, and has a broad scope.
A few lines before suggesting the 10 measures, the Manifesto says:
“ We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy,” says the Manifesto. China led by CPC did that.
The Manifesto has qualified the way measures are to be taken:
“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
China is still a developing country and CPC decided it is only in a primary stage of socialism, and has a long road ahead. See data given below:
GDP per capita in current dollars (PPP) as per World Bank data (2018) show China’s relative, lower, position: China 18236, Central Europe 31214, East Asia & Pacific 19329, Euro Area 46207, USA 62794, Switzerland 68060, France 45342, Germany 53074, Hong Kong 64596, Italy 41830, Japan 42797, Russia 27147, Greece 29592, Iran 21011, South Korea 40111, Malaysia 31782, Bahrain 47303(2018).
China is lagging behind even many developing countries, one can see, even behind the average of Middle east and North Africa 20713 dollars. It needs to develop its productive forces, as stressed in the Manifesto, which also qualifies the measures:
“These measures will, of course, be different in different countries. Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.”
Thus China, definitely not among the most advanced countries, may not be able to take the 10 suggested measures at once. The Manifesto says:
The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.
But let us have done with the bourgeois objections to Communism.
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.
A Chinese commentary said:
In the 170 years since the publication of the document (the Manifesto), the world has seen China emerge from a weak, less-developed country to a prosperous nation and break away from the development model of the West and figure out a more suitable pattern of modernization.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era is not only a cause for China but also an important and remarkable part of socialism in the 21st century, said Jiang Hui of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). (Xinhua| 2018-02-22).
Chinese socialism may be understood better by studying what was said by Engels and Lenin in two of their works.
Revolution did not take place in most advanced countries as was envisaged by the authors of the Manifesto. Thus Lenin worked out a theory of building socialism in one country and realized it in a backward capitalist Russia ,with all attendant problems. And Mao led Chinese revolution in the most backward feudal, semi-feudal, semi-colonial country. It is only in this context one can see objectively development of socialism, including Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The Principles of Communism
The Principles of Communism by Frederick Engels (1847 October-November ) was a fore-runner to the Manifesto (1848 Feb). The measures suggested by the Manifesto have their roots in this work and were revised and refined in the Manifesto. In this work, Engels had explained the issues in a Q&A format. He stresses the gradual nature and the relationship with the productive forces. Q No 17 to 19 (extracts) run like this:
Will it be possible for private property to be abolished at one stroke?
No, no more than existing forces of production can at one stroke be multiplied to the extent necessary for the creation of a communal society.
In all probability, the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and will be able to abolish private property only when the means of production are available in sufficient quantity.
What will be the course of this revolution?
The answer gives a list of 12 measures. Then it says :
It is impossible, of course, to carry out all these measures at once… All the foregoing measures… will become practicable and feasible, capable of producing their centralizing effects to precisely the degree that the proletariat, through its labor, multiplies the country’s productive forces.
Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?
No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.
Lenin On Concessions
Soviet Union at one time was regarded as the Centre of world revolution. It had however emerged as a super power rivaling USA, even in its hegemonic ways. China was not for that. It never regarded itself as such a Centre, nor sought to play a hegemonic role. Its approach can be better understood from what Lenin had said in his articles On Concessions.
Lenin wrote :
“Menshiviks assert that we are pledged to defeating the world bourgeoisie on our own. We have however always said that we are only a single link in the chain of the world revolution, and have never set ourselves the aim of achieving victory by our own means. The world revolution has not yet come about, but then we have not yet been overcome.”
How about china’s concessions to the West? China has been adopting an open policy and reform policy. It needs to be understood in the light of imperialist Globalization, and now of trade wars. Lenin says :
“ Concessions do not mean peace; they too are a kind of warfare, only in another form, one that is to our advantage.Previously, war was waged with the aid of tanks, cannon and the like, which hindered our work. The war will now be conducted on the economic front.They may perhaps try to restore the freedom to trade. But they can not get along without us. Besides they have to submit to all our laws, and our workers can learn from them, in case of war and we must always be prepared for war against the bourgeoisie. The property will remain in our hands by virtue of the laws of war. I repeat : concessions are a means of war on the economic front, but here we do not destroy our productive forces, but develop them…
The road to world revolution, Lenin says, is “ not a straight road but goes in zig zags. We have weakened the bourgeoisie, so that it can not overcome us by force of arms. They used to ban our conduct of communist propaganda, but there can be no question of that at present, and it would be ridiculous to demand such things. They are decaying from within, and that gives us strength. We do not imagine that we shall defeat the world bourgeoisie by force of arms alone….”
(Lenin CW Vol 31.1920 Nov 26. From a Speech delivered in a Cell Secretaries Meet of RCP-B)
Lenin clarified some more questions later on April 25, 1921. Though in a different context, the rationale of China’s policies can be appreciated from those lines:
“Is it right for Soviet government to invite foreign capitalists after expelling the Russian land owners and capitalists?” Lenin asks and answers: He says the capitalists do gain and profit, but people also get their needs and goods.
“ Yes, it is because seeing that the workers’ revolution in other countries is delayed, we have to make some sacrifices in order to achieve a rapid and immediate improvement in the condition of the workers and peasants….We have no right to forego the opportunity of immediately improving the condition of the workers and peasants, for impoverishment makes it essential, and our sacrifices will not be fatal.
“ But is it not dangerous to invite the capitalism? Yes it does imply a development of capitalism, but this is not dangerous, because power will still be in the hands of the workers and peasants…” (CW Vol 32.)
Imperialism is still live and kicking; it is not on its deathbed in the immediate future, as was envisaged. Technological revolutions and social democratic reforms and doles in the West gave them a new lease of life. Worldwide revolution, more so in the Western capitalist countries, is delayed and yet to take place. And socialism had an opportunity to be built in a backward Russia, and in a most backward China.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics needs to be understood, in the above context.
(The author is political observer and has contributed to countercurrents.org)