A View of the Reforms in China

by Vladimir Chechentsev

Review of Zbigniew Wiktor’s book, China on the course of the socialist modernisation.

A major work (546 pages) has been printed by Adam Marszalek Publishing, Poland, by the Professor of Social Sciences of the University of Wroclaw, Zbigniew Wiktor, entitled Chiny na drodze socialistycznej modernizacji (‘China on the Course of the Socialist Modernisation’, Torun, 2008).

It represents the result of Wiktor’s long-term studies of the development of social relations in the People’s Republic of China, its economic and political system, supplied by observations during his stay in China in Autumn 2005, including his scientific work in the University of Wuhan.

China’s enormous size, with 1.3 billion inhabitants, a diversity of lifestyles, its rapid development in the last thirty years, its continuous flow of reforms in politics and economics – all this sets extremely difficult tasks before a social scientist – not only to give an objective reflection of reality, but to determine the tendencies of the motive forces in its future development. While Wiktor has quite successfully accomplished the former task, he has not quite managed the latter; more details will be given below.

As Wiktor notes in the beginning, ‘The problems outlined are really vast. This made me refer to various kinds of sources, to the literature and to apply different research methods, including historical and comparative methods, to apply the political and state-law analysis, and first of all, the method of historical and dialectical materialism, so as to enable the reflection and analysis of the relations between the economics and politics in the People’s Republic of China’ (p. 11).

(The translations from the Polish hereinafter are done by the author of this review.)

Note that Wiktor refers to Marxism as his main research method. The author of this review also advocates these views. However, this does not stop us from assessing the Chinese reality from another viewpoint.

Let us now pass onto the analysis of Wiktor’s book, starting with the conclusion from the book (quoted from the English afterword of the Polish book, with minor stylistic amendments).

‘The essence of the modernisation and reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping and continued by his successor was the new attitude towards the market. The Chinese leader has stated (contrary to his predecessor – Mao Zedong) that the market does not have to be an alien and hostile category and mechanism for the socialist economy but it can lead to a huge increase of production and contribute to dynamism and modernisation in the socialist economy. This modernisation had significant effects not only for practical activities but also influenced theoretical discussion on the basic thesis of Marxist political economy and the theory of scientific socialism. New categories such as socialist market and socialist market economy (which since 1992 has been a constitutional principle of the PRC) were created.

Modernisation and Deng Xiaoping’s reforms were based on the assumption that the dogmatism of Mao Zedong (who had huge successes in leading the socialist revolution in China and creating the basis of socialism but also was not free from numerous mistakes) must be given up. Mao Zedong implemented equalising principles of socialism under the conditions of historical economic backwardness of China – with a quite high pace of development but from a very low initial level, when even extreme poverty was common and its sign was the ‘iron rice bowl’. Poverty and want – said Deng Xiaoping – even shared justly cannot be ideals of socialism like the ‘barracks socialism’ promoted by Maoists also at the international level. The CPC considered that China is still in the initial stage of socialism, when small economy dominates the countryside and plays a significant role in the cities, and that it needs to be steered towards fast development under state and legal control and the socialist state economy. It has also considered that this aim can be achieved through broad international cooperation with foreign capital and trade relations. In this issue the Chinese leadership has used earlier Soviet experience from the 1920s when V. I. Lenin proposed, after huge destruction during the civil war, a new course for the Soviet state – the New Economic Policy (NEP), which put an end to chaos after the revolution, rebuilding of the economy, reviving of international trade and, what is most important, preparing the state for the realisation of the new tasks during later period.’

The text quoted above shows that Wiktor shares the CPC’s official view that socialism is compatible with commodity-money relations, i.e. market relations. We cannot agree with such a position if we are to base ourselves on the model of scientific socialism. The errors in this position will be obvious if we understand by socialism the social system with the comradely mode of production, where wage labour is eliminated. Thus everybody becomes a worker taking part in productive labour, where the exploitation of people by people is liquidated, where the contradiction between the city and countryside and the contradiction between intellectual and physical labour are done away with, where many state functions have withered away. Socialism is the first stage of communism.

It is clear that modern China with its mixed-mode economy, with capitalist and small-production modes, is nowhere near to satisfying these criteria. The free-market socialism in the PRC is the social system of transition between capitalism and socialism.

Actually, Wiktor writes, ‘the CPC foresees that China will complete the transformations inherent to the transition period between socialism and capitalism only by 2050’.

‘This means that it is half way there; in terms of the maturity of socialist relations, it is only in the initial phase of socialist construction.’

Obviously Wiktor has not quite thought this question through, because in the Russian-language summary (p. 531) he states that China is in the initial stage of socialist construction, while in the English-language summary (p. 521) he says it is ‘in the initial stage of socialism’. Everybody would agree that the two things are not the same.

Wiktor states that the practice of economic reforms in China demands the discussion and revision of the fundamental positions of Marxism-Leninism. We are confident that there are no grounds for such statements; defending these fundamental positions, including the versatile development incorporating new aspects, is a vital task for Marxist-Leninists.

The tragic experience of the dismantlement of the USSR and Eastern European countries has shown everybody that in the end, socialism in its early stage was defeated due to the course taken for free market and privatisation. The continuous economic growth during the reforms, the fact that these reforms were carried out in the backward conditions of China’s production shows the impossibility of restricting oneself just to the planned economy.

At the same time, loosening free-market relations, assisting their functioning in all sectors of economy, means blocking the road to socialism.

The book includes four chapters and the author’s Chinese diaries. To understand the complicated processes taking place in the course of economic reforms in China the central portion of the book is Chapter 1, the Contradiction in China.

These contradictions are analysed from the viewpoint of the PRC’s international position and at the internal level. China’s current economic policy is directed at incorporating the country into international relations.

Quite symbolic is the quote in this chapter by the Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Li Shenming, ‘China has to be active and remain calm in the processes of economic globalisation. There are no other options. Globalisation carries a risk. All countries and peoples have merits and specifics which have to be honoured. So all countries have to carry out the policy of openness in relation to others. In this century with its rapid development of science and technology, no country can afford to cut itself from the international influence. These countries would remain backward, would be passive and would be subject to attacks’ (p. 12).

This incorporation into the system of international relations is taking place under conditions where world imperialism headed by the USA confronts the peoples’ drive to social and national liberation. In relation to this, Wiktor notes, ‘The United States is willing to take control of the course of globalisation today in different aspects of international relations; this is the USA that since the 1990s has wanted to implement a uni-polar system of international relations. Globalisation in military techniques means the US’ drive to new hegemony, whose expression is the expansion of NATO, the growth of armaments, the appearance of new generations of armaments, and the US-instigated local wars, under the guise of the UN and NATO. Globalisation’s other problems are the expansion of the population in the so-called Third World, the energy crisis, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, international terrorism grown beyond any reasonable limit; to stop it, actions on an international scale are necessary. Globalisation in the area of politics and culture engenders other consequences, whose analysis requires special attention’ (p. 15).

This kind of analysis of the modern world is insufficient, as it does not address the main contradiction of modern times – the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of appropriation under capitalism, engendering the antagonistic contradiction of labour and capital, leading inevitably to economic crises and social upheavals, preparing the conditions for world wars and social revolution.

A major part of Chapter 1 is devoted to the analysis of changes taking place in the relations of production in China, in the class structure of the society, in the process of class struggle and in the corruption that has affected social life.

Relations between two economic modes are considered. ‘In the last twenty years the social sector has become an important element in the free-market economy’. This is exactly the way it is described in the up-to-date version of the Constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of China. In the years of reforms, the privately-owned enterprises grew; many have turned into big corporations with multi-billion-dollar turnovers, among them the Peking Corporation of Hanjan, the Guandong Meidi, Liaoning Panpan, Zheijang Younger Group (p. 28). The private sector in the cities, which has grown in size, is complemented by the huge small-business sector in the countryside, which constantly engenders capitalist relations.

‘Private property in China has grown to the extent,’ Wiktor affirms, ‘that despite the fact that the State sector in the cities maintains the dominant position, some reviewers and theoreticians doubt the socialist character of public relations in the People’s Republic of China’ (pp. 25-26).

Wiktor notes the positive results established through the reforms in the state sector of the economy. But one of the processes draws one’s attention, the strong dependence of the results of the State sector on the external market.

Given the background of the enormous changes in all aspects of social life, Wiktor has paid much attention to the class contradictions in the modern China. According to the data given, the class structure of China has the following layout:

Workers in the production sector: 160 million people

Unemployed: 14 million people

Workers in other sectors in the economy: 146 million people

Workers in the services, the intelligentsia: 140 million people.

Economically active population (including the unemployed): 760 million (p. 76)

No doubt the relative political weight of the capitalist class is much higher than its numerical proportion of the total population. No matter how actively the representatives of this class swear to socialist principles, the class struggle of the capitalist exploiters against the working class is an undeniable fact.

‘The politics of reform and modernisation of China has led to the growth of private capital, invested in special sectors of the economy; first of all, home capital has been unleashed and is increasing its power many times over. It is now seen by a large part of party members as a major threat to the socialist relations in the future’ (p. 102).

Wiktor believes that the CPC and PRC leadership will be able respond to the new challenges of the class struggle.

Another expression of class struggle in China discussed by Wiktor is corruption. The processes of socialist market economy have made material stimuli more important. The gap between the wealth of the new bourgeoisie and the poverty of the working-class masses, the employees and the peasantry, has greatly increased. Under these conditions, bribery of full-time state and party workers has been a very important aspect in the activity of Chinese business people, especially those who have multi-billion dollar assets. However, the book has no reasonable answers to questions arising from this fact. Wiktor draws much attention to considering the changes in the property relations in the course of economic reform that have led to the differentiation of incomes among the Chinese population.

Of special interest is his detailed investigation of the influence of the Great October Socialist Revolution on the development of the liberation movement in China that led to the foundation of the People’s Republic and its influence on Chinese communists searching for the course of socialist construction appropriate to the national situation.

Part two considers the specific features of the political system in the PRC, its changes in the initial stage of socialist construction in the course of the economic reform. Its other features are analysed, such as the leading role of the CPC, the interaction of the CPC with democratic parties represented in the National People’s Congress, expressing the interests of the existing classes and layers in Chinese society, the implementation of the people’s dictatorship. The stages of development of the political system in the People’s Republic of China starting from 1949 are considered, including the basic statements in the Constitutions of the PRC of 1954, 1975 and 1982 and the five amendments to the current Constitution of 1982. Wiktor considers the principle of the democratic dictatorship of the people proclaimed in the Constitution of the PRC as the expression of the proletarian dictatorship in the specific conditions of the transition period leading from capitalism to socialism. We do not think this is correct. The replacement of the proletarian dictatorship, as a principle, by a people’s dictatorship, is evidence of the tendency to compromise in the political thinking of the CPC leadership. But what do they lead to?

For a long time now, the CPC’s theory and practice has not been based on a class approach when assessing the course of the reforms taken and international events.

‘As a result of action by internal and international facts,” Wiktor states, “the class struggle will exist in a limited form for a long period of time, and it may be aggravated under certain conditions. However, this is not the main contradiction…’ (p. 66).

Such an approach inevitably strengthens the positions of the national bourgeoisie, which is aligning with the bureaucrats in the administrative, economic and party apparatuses.

The tendency to abandon the class approach in the assessment of social events has been further developed in Jiang Zemin’s Three Representatives concept. It is aimed at merging the economic elite (the bourgeoisie) brought up in the reforms since 1978 into the CPC. Thus, instead of admitting and theoretically outlining the continuous antagonistic class struggle in China, there is an attempt to reconcile their economic interests and to call for their collaboration in the name of prosperity in China.

Unless we are driven by the illusion of capitalism being rooted in socialism, the political power of the working class (the proletarian dictatorship) is aimed at steadily rooting out capitalist relations of production and at establishing new ones, and would not be stopped by the prospect of applying justified violence against the exploiters. ‘Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another’ (K. Marx, F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party).

The report on the activity of the CPC CC Disciplinary Commission at the 16th Congress of the CPC stated unequivocally, ‘getting rid of corruption is an important political struggle, whose course is a matter of life and death for the Party and for the State’ (p. 88). No coincidence that CPC veterans, functionaries, military service people and scientists classify the current party course as openly revisionist in a letter to CPC CC General Secretary Hu Jintao (October 2004).

In part three, ‘The development and the world,’ Wiktor presented his view of the principal stages in the history of China from the foundation of the Republic of China in 1911 up to the present time. The analysis of the economic and political development of the People’s Republic of China throughout nearly sixty years is summarised in the following statement: ‘The essence of the theoretical discovery by Deng Xiaoping is that socialist economy has to be a market-based economy, regulated accordingly by a popular state in the interests of society. It is therefore necessary to regard this in the broad historical context as the utmost of all realistic chances today for the victory of socialism world-wide’ (p. 282).

To sum up the study of distinct questions investigated by Wiktor’s book, we see his undivided support for the socio-political and economic reforms carried out since 1978 by the CPC and PRC leadership headed by Deng Xiaoping and his followers.

Economic reform in the PRC carried out in the transition period between socialism and capitalism, the reform that has lead to a significant strengthening of capitalist lifestyle, is presented as the implementation of market-based socialism. The political reform whose essence is the departure from the principles of proletarian dictatorship is regarded as the overcoming of dogmatism and the enlargement of the camp of socialism’s supporters. These views are incompatible with the development of scientific socialism; they are a revision thereof.

‘Market-based socialism,’ unless it is specifically seen as a social system in transition, and unless an emphasis is made on its transitional character, is a false concept designed to cover for capitalist restoration. Socialist economy is not a modification of market economy, not a version of it, but its historic alternative, central to which is not profit but human needs and the work to base them on a scientific plan. Politically the substitution of a class-based, proletarian approach with the notorious concept of a state of all the people led to the collapse of socialism in the USSR. The PRC is open to the same kind of threat. In essence this is all about the great difficulties of the transition period, and the rubbish and confusion related to it, and about the recognition and application of the transition and hence the contradictory forms appropriate for the epoch.

Throughout his book, Professor Wiktor stands for defending the cause of socialism in China. We also see the cause of socialism in the PRC as our own. We are therefore critical in following the questionable course of the CPC’s and PRC’s current leadership that could threaten the socialist achievements of the Chinese proletariat and the entire Chinese people.

A confirmation of how far this leadership has departed from following the principles of scientific socialism has been the support for Resolution 1874 in the UN Security Council. This resolution, adopted unanimously by the Security Council, condemns the nuclear tests carried out on the 25th of May 2009 by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and thus provides for sanctions against this socialist country.

We would like to express the hope that Wiktor’s book, which contains rich factual material on the PRC’s economics and politics valuable for continuing discussion on the methods of socialist construction, will come out in Russian.

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