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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/China and the Left

China and the Left

Conrad Hamilton, Griffith Jones, David McMullen, Anthony Monteiro

Platypus Review 162 | December 2023 – January 2024

On January 7, 2023, prompted by recent protests in China, the Platypus Affiliated Society held a panel on China and the Left. The panelists included Conrad Hamilton (PhD at Université Paris 8), Griffith Jones (formerly of the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.)), David McMullen (simplymarxism.com, a self-described “unreconstructed Maoist,” formerly of Red Eureka Movement), and Anthony Monteiro (Saturday Free School, Philadelphia). An edited transcript follows.[1]

Introduction

Conrad Hamilton: If the COVID death rate in China had been the same as the United States per capita — given the dense housing in China — over 4 million people would have died. To put that in perspective, the amount of people we’re talking about is a lowball estimate for the amount of people that died in the Holocaust. We have to be skeptical about absorbing the narrative according to which the Chinese lockdown is simply proof of the state’s totalitarianism. The human catastrophe acquiesced to by the West in the name of continuing the reproduction of capital is like the Great Leap Forward: a catastrophe too vast to be acknowledged at this moment, because if it were it would have severe, politically destabilizing effects.

We understand this issue through a prism of ideological prejudice. You can see the way that misinformation has persisted in the coverage of the Blank Paper Revolution.[2] One reads in Western media that these are the largest protests since Tiananmen Square (1989), that they’re being done in solidarity with Hong Kong and the Uyghurs, that they’re opposed to a supposedly tyrannical lockdown policy — none of this is true.

Because of its state capitalism, China was able to hold out with its lockdown policies longer than most Western states, which are more dependent on private enterprise. In China the increasing debt rate, concern from foreign investors, and substandard economic performance, led them to start opening up in November of 2022. Many changes were rolled out in November and December, and they were implemented more quickly than most medical experts in China suggested. There was a stark difference between the opinions issued by the medical community and the policies pursued out of an urgent sense of the economic situation. This happened fast; Party organs were ill-prepared to defend the sudden shift in approach, and we know that pharmacies and hospitals were unable to support the demand. It was in this context that protests broke out: not before, but after the Party had moved towards a liberalization of these policies. The rapid reversal and the deaths associated with it have caused this agenda to lose some credibility. There’s no chance that as many people in China are going to die as in the U.S., but we are looking at a high death rate now. People were willing to go with the line of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as long as it was coherent, and now that it’s not, they’re not.

On the idea of solidarity with the Uyghurs in Hong Kong because of the fire in Urumqi, the apartment building — this is unlikely. Most Chinese are simply not pro-Uyghur or pro-Hong Kong. The Western media has talked about the fact that in 2019 Hong Kong protestors held up blank pages. We could also look to Mao who said in 1958, “on a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written; the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted.”[3] I’m not persuaded that that is the reference.

The protests may not be nearly as large nor widespread as the Western media implies. I made a deliberate point, when I was preparing this, of looking through international papers and not just reading press from the UK, the U.S., or France. The level of coverage given to the events in the non-Western papers of Finland, India, or Turkey is a lot less. You wouldn’t have the same estimation of the importance of these events if you read those papers, and it can’t be explained away on the basis that they’re all hacks of the CCP.

China has had a lot of protests and uprisings over the past few decades. It’s interesting to see which ones the West chooses to glorify. They haven’t focused on labor unrest, and there’s been a lot of increasing unrest as the Chinese working class has enlarged itself, because to focus on that would be to strengthen forces that can hurt the profits of foreign investment. Instead, they gave support to Tiananmen in 89, which I don’t want to simplify too much because the motivations were quite diverse for Tiananmen, but it did enjoy the support of a lot of the Chinese private sector, which at that time had not been clearly roped into the CCP line to the same degree as later. We know that in Tiananmen there were businesses sending motorbikes around to debrief people on the movements of soldiers. Now they’re focused on glorifying the Blank Paper Revolution, and the reason for this is because the Chinese lockdown has endangered the profits of foreign capital. The lockdown strengthened China’s state capitalist or socialist impulses, and, with the U.S. feuding with China, it’s natural for the West to inflate the importance of these events.

We have to be skeptical of what we’re reading in the Western press. The anti-Chinese oversell is strong. For example, know that recently the U.S. schlepped in about $500 million to fund anti-China media coverage in the America COMPETES Act,[4] which was a manufacturing bill, but it was felt that to further U.S. manufacturing it was essential to spread disinformation about China.

I want to offer some more general notes on China. In the 1990s, the Jiang Zemin era, and sometimes today, China is derided as “authoritarian capitalist.” This description is inadequate as it elides the fact that while China is beholden to certain capitalist axioms, its economy isn’t dominated by private capital that the state is forced to defend, which would be fascism. 132 of the 145 biggest firms in China are public. We have a distorted sense of this in the West because a lot of Chinese public companies are functioning internationally through private branches, and many of our purchased Chinese consumer goods come from the tech sector, which is more widely privatized.

Without depending too much on tax revenues, China has been able to provide free university and a minimum income guarantee, the dibao. It’s funny because it’s comparable in relative volume to what Andrew Yang has proposed in the U.S. and — because Platypus likes Moishe Postone — one of the measures (universal basic income) supported in his Time, Labor and Social Domination (1993).

China has massive public-transport infrastructure, and home ownership is 90% because of infrastructure investments, compared to 64% in the U.S.

One can see a stark contrast in China’s growth and its distributive effects in a neoliberal economy like Russia, which is dominated by predatory capital. Russia and the U.S. are more alike because they’re neoliberal nations with soft authoritarian governments. We saw this with the laws that obstruct a third party in the U.S., and the tremendous condensation of support around Biden when Sanders seemed poised to win the Democratic primary. China, by contrast, is a state-capitalist nation and has something closer to a hard authoritarian government in spite of the strength of its local democracy. This authoritarianism is decried, with some reason, but we should try to understand the causes.

As with the USSR, China escaped the exploitation by foreign countries under Mao by “delinking” from the global economy, to use the parlance of the world-systems theorist Samir Amin. This is a necessarily violent process — slamming the border shut, engaging in mass appropriations, opposing the swathe of political allies that the West enlisted, etc. But, it was also successful. While the Great Leap Forward (1958–62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) backfired, the Communists succeeded in creating medical infrastructure, food security, industry, and widespread education — enormous achievements for the welfare of the Chinese. Prior to Deng Xiaoping, in the Maoist era, China had the highest GDP growth per year that had been seen in history. For this reason, when they opened up areas of the economy to competition and foreign investment under Deng, they were better poised to succeed than, e.g., many African nations. They were able to set the terms for foreign engagement. That they could marshal political support for that opening up attests to their historical flexibility.

To justify a strategy of peasant revolution, Mao redefined Marxism. In “On Contradiction” (1937), he argued that the primary contradiction wasn’t between bourgeois and proletariat, but that it could be between peasants and landowners — a pertinent issue in China at the time — or between China as a whole and Japanese invaders.

When Deng took power, he took advantage of this doctrinal flexibility to claim that the need was to elevate the level of the productive forces — that would be the primary contradiction. This enriched China, while ensuring that the state held control over foreign firms. You can’t just glorify the economic success of Deng, as we often do in the West — what Mao did first was essential. The fact that India’s opening-up policies haven’t yielded the same results attests to this difference. In India there’s not a single language that 50% of the population speak. The standardization of Chinese was introduced by the CCP.

All this has come at a cost. To attract and sustain foreign investment, China was forced to weaken the relative, as opposed to absolute, economic position of its working class. Fortunately, now, with the shift to domestic consumption, China is able to define more of the terms of its own labor policy, as well as its economy as a whole. When production doesn’t have to conform to foreign whims, wages can be higher and there can be more environmental protections. It’s for this reason that Xi Jinping, who seeks to increase domestic consumption, has co-opted many postures of the Chinese Left, which organizes itself around the website Utopia,[5] and for a time supported Bo Xilai, who is now in prison.

I stress this: China breaking with the capitalist model cannot strictly be achieved by the CCP bureaucracy. China has the largest working class in the world: 280 million. For China to realize its potential, the working class will need to find an expression adequate to itself. Only if party and people converge, with the people putting pressure on the government to further develop socialism, can China definitively avoid the possibility of a catastrophic relapse into capitalism. There’s a great deal of pressure — just look at what the U.S. is doing, baiting World War III by trying to choke the microchip exports from Taiwan.

These issues have implications for the rest of the world. If the Chinese working class can help bring about these changes in China, I have no doubt that the Left worldwide would be strengthened.

David McMullen: In China, the people are showing ever more signs that they want bourgeois democracy and Western capitalism. At the same time, the regime wants to perpetuate their own fascist brand of capitalism. You shouldn’t have any trouble deciding who to support.

Anti-communists will claim that the struggle is against communism. However, this cannot possibly be true because there is nothing remotely communist about the regime. An important job for the radical Left is to refute this anti-communist slander. In China, genuine communists participate in the anti-fascist resistance, although their numbers wouldn’t be large.

There is nothing about the regime that we should want to preserve. I would have no problem with democratic elections replacing fake socialism with honest capitalism. The more respect there is for political freedom, the more scope for a genuine revolutionary movement to emerge.

The regime claims that they are communists and are practicing socialism with Chinese characteristics — an early stage of socialism with capitalist features — and that they will transition to a higher stage when economic and social conditions permit. Xi Jinping talks about China being a “great modern socialist country in all respects” by 2049, only a generation away.[6]

But can you imagine the sort of people running things in China transitioning to something that would reduce their power and privilege? I find this claim laughable. China is a class society. It has a large bourgeoisie and a massive petty bourgeoisie. There are hundreds of billionaires. There are around 40 million small and medium-sized private businesses. Then add on the salaried management and Party and state officials who are concerned solely with their careers in this thoroughly capitalist society. On top of that we have widespread corruption. To sum it up, in China getting rich is good.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the top leadership made this radical Leftward pivot in the future and called for the communist transformation of the relations of production and social superstructure. On the one hand you have this large segment of society, which we have just referred to, that has no interest in returning to the path of revolution and would resist it. On the other hand, you have a working class that has spent all their lives obeying orders and being purely concerned with personal matters. If there were a genuine Left pivot it would be the job of the working class to rise up and begin transforming conditions that are capitalist to the core, in the face of all this resistance to change. This would be a massive revolutionary class struggle comparable to the Cultural Revolution.

I have no doubt that the counterrevolutionary stratum would prevail over an enfeebled working class, and the foolish rulers who made the Left pivot would be quickly overthrown. This is just a hypothetical. The political leaders only get to their position by showing themselves to be reliable supporters of the existing order. Any people who showed they have plans to overturn that existing order would not last long.

Instead, the return of the proletarian revolution in China will be by means of the bourgeois democratic revolution. Communists will win the support and trust of the people by being among the staunchest supporters of that revolution, and the more democratic conditions will assist the growth of the revolutionary movement.

What went wrong with the Chinese Revolution? A big part of the problem was that the revolution in China, like the one in Russia, was peasant-based and it was an economically and socially backward country. It was the case of a proletarian revolution piggybacking on a peasant revolution for land redistribution. This was not a good starting point. Subjective conditions meant that the revolution had to be top-down. In addition to people not being that revolutionary, they were not well equipped for the task of revolution. Being peasants, they were generally illiterate and had spent their lives living within narrow confines and could be readily pushed around by their masters.

Then there was the lack of material conditions. It is hard to start down the communist road if it means sharing poverty and toil. You need the conditions created by capitalist development, where you would be sharing prosperity, and labor loses a lot of its negative features and becomes more human.

Another subjective condition here is the quality of the leadership of the revolution from above. People like Deng Xiaoping joined the revolution simply to make China strong and modern. At the same time, they were happy to enrich themselves as a new bourgeoisie. Equality did not look attractive.

Their political line, which they borrowed from the Soviet Union, served them well. This was the theory of the productive forces, which claimed that the primary contradiction in China was not between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie but between the country’s advanced social system and its backward productive forces. According to this view the advance of socialism was a matter of developing the economy, and the relics of capitalism would peacefully fade away in some misty future.

The Cultural Revolution was an attempt by Mao and his supporters to swim against this tide of backwardness and reaction. However, within a month of Mao’s death a coup reversed these efforts.

In the 1980s there was a moribund Soviet-style economy which was then replaced by unmistakable capitalism in the 1990s.

Future revolutions in developed capitalist societies will be different. Underlying conditions are more favorable. The majority of the population are workers earning a wage or salary, and there is only going to be a proletarian revolution if there is mass support to begin with.

Equality would mean sharing an increasing level of affluence. There is work in equality. An equal share of routine work would not be too burdensome as it is done increasingly by machines and computers. People would be able to do rewarding work, develop their abilities, and follow interesting pursuits. Work is increasingly cerebral, and our interactions with machines are becoming more complex. There is a diminishing need for the old division between mental and manual labor.

These conditions are necessary to transform the relations of production, which is at the heart of the revolution, i.e., people thrive in their work, and they want to contribute to the common pot. Thriving at work means eliminating the old division that separates thinking and deciding from execution. It also means changing our relations with each other in the work environment. We will display mutual regard, and the healthy relations in the workplace plus economic security cannot help but positively impact our relations with others. To quote the Communist Manifesto (1848): “In the place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and its class antagonisms, there will be an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”[7]

The new society will break free of its capitalist roots over an extended period as we learn to change ourselves and to counter resistance to change. This will be an intense period of class struggle. There will be lots of opponents and fence sitters to deal with. We will need to rely for a while on the old management. There will be supposed supporters who want to become the new bosses. Rank-and-file workers will have to learn how to assert themselves. And there will be lots of people with personality disorders who could take the shine off things both for themselves and for others.

There will need to be a large determined revolutionary vanguard, who will have to be tough, have well developed social skills, and moral courage, because their opponents will point out their flaws and claim that they are the problem rather than them. Dealing with people in authority who act as a hindrance will be tricky.

Keeping on a revolutionary path will depend on the clash of ideas and the ability to identify and challenge both conservative and loony, ultra-Left views. Challenging the words and deeds of those in authority is critical, as is the ability to remove them if necessary. People need to be able to say what they think otherwise they will just pretend to agree, and passively resist.

Griffith Jones: I’d first like to note that the White Paper Protests were striking in several regards. The first being that they were the first national protest since Tiananmen, which, by the way, was not a George Soros-inspired plot against the CCP dictatorship. They were national in character, taking place in over 20 cities and on over 80 campuses. We have lots of videos of speakers, and we saw the scenes. If you can’t read Chinese, I can assure everyone that they were taking great issue with the fact that there is no freedom of expression in China. It’s worth noting that I can be prosecuted and jailed for these very criticisms that I’m raising today because I live in Hong Kong, which is now subject to the National Security Law making it almost the same as the People’s Republic of China. The blank sheets of paper have nothing to do with a Mao quote, and they have everything to do with the fact that people know they are being surveilled and repressed, and since the CCP spends more on internal surveillance and repression than it does on the military, you get a pretty good idea that it’s anything but a society that allows free association or expression of ideas.

As someone who participated in the protests in Hong Kong in 2019, it was satisfying to hear some of the protesters in 2022 commenting how they regretted having dismissed the protests in Hong Kong three years ago. Hong Kong also had little to do with CIA subversion, but it’s worth noting that the first go-to for the CCP, when confronted by these mass protests, was to say they’re foreign inspired. That’s almost as lame as taking down the street signs for Urumqi Road in Shanghai, as though that’s going to prevent people from identifying with the Uyghur families who were burned to death because they couldn’t get out of their apartment building — these are conditions of brutal lockdown that nearly 100% of the Chinese population has experienced at one point or another over these past three years.

These protests were also different than other outbursts over the past decades in that they had the explicit political demand for the kind of bourgeois freedom that David was speaking about. That they even dared to target Xi Jinping, who completed his crowning as emperor with the 20th Party Congress — that was astounding.

Regarding the COVID lockdown, it’s worth noting that Chinese people remember that the first reaction of the CCP in December 2019 was to suppress any warning about the appearance of a deadly new virus. Then the CCP allowed the Chinese New Year to go ahead a full month later after they knew how dangerous it was and allowed free travel out of the country. Especially through the tragedy of that scientist who revealed the danger of COVID dying himself three months later from COVID, Chinese people haven’t forgotten how badly the CPC bungled COVID in the first instance. The lockdowns did prevent mass casualties. Certainly, it didn’t prevent it as well as the CCP pretended. The issue is not whether or not mass, brutal, and totalitarian lockdowns prevented COVID from spreading throughout the population, but rather what the CCP did with the time that it earned through those lockdowns, which came at a huge economic, as well as human, price. The answer is they did fuck all. That’s why people are so angry. It suggests that the CCP was more interested in practicing totalitarian mass control than it was about preventing COVID. In any event, there was no preparation, and it’s still a mess.

Conrad said that China won’t reach the same death toll as the U.S. Well, I’m quite sure that it will in absolute terms, but granted that if a million or even two million die as a result of this COVID wave coming after the unprepared and spontaneous lifting of zero-COVID, it will still be less than what happened in the U.S. That’s an indictment of the U.S. healthcare system — the tragedy of spending more than any other country and having horrific results, but that’s not our discussion today.

David and Conrad have gone into some depth about the history of the Chinese Revolution. I agree with David on virtually all of his points. However, even though bourgeois freedoms — association and expression — are critical, we shouldn’t make light of the fact that the crowds of protesters in the Blank Paper Movement would spontaneously break into singing “the Internationale.” The Chinese masses — working class and also the petty-bourgeois — are more politically sophisticated than we give them credit for. It’s hard for us to understand the level of political sophistication, because they live under a regime that is dedicated to quashing any kind of free political expression.

Marx himself didn’t talk much about social justice but rather emphasized freedom, because freedom is critical for the working class to be able to self-organize. I agree with David: there’s a fascist system in China. The oppression against women started in 2012 with the revision of the Chinese Constitution to make it harder for women to co-own properties so they would be forced into dependency on their husband and bear more children. The CCP realized over a decade ago that they were facing a population crisis, and today we see the result that India is actually more populous than China. China’s population is going to steadily decline, as part of an array of negative economic and demographic trends. “Peak China” isn’t exactly correct, but those estimates for when the Chinese economy will overtake the U.S. economy have now been pushed back to roughly 2050. It depends on what happens in the U.S.

I’m more optimistic about the possibilities for a mobilized working class in China. The critical question that was asked by Platypus — the relationship between democracy and socialism — will be borne out in China, as they’re inseparable. It is precisely the lack of democracy that was a key feature of both Stalinist and Maoist regimes, which doomed them to economic collapse and political bankruptcy. The CCP claiming to have achieved socialism is perhaps its greatest crime against the possibility of world revolution. It would at least be honest if they said, “we’re capitalists; suck it up.”

Anthony Monteiro: I’d like to speak from two standpoints. Being that I am from the U.S., that I live in the U.S., so often our discussions about “failures of socialist societies” — there has been no advanced capitalist country with a democratic revolution in the modern sense, or transition to socialism.So, often when the Left, for example in the U.S., speaks about “socialism” or the lack thereof in China, they are reflecting upon their own failures. Whatever the failures of the Chinese Revolution — and there are many — their successes far outweigh them. For those of us in the U.S. who look critically at the U.S. situation, at this chaotic moment in what is called the “greatest democracy” — to look at China through these lenses is to look at a highly developed democratic society. The U.S. is the largest capitalist economy in the deepest crisis of the “democratic world.” When I look at China through the lens of the experience of the working people of the U.S., I’d say that the democracy in China is much more developed, and the claims of the leadership of the Chinese government and state seem to ring truer than what is said in the U.S.

In so much of the “Left’s” discussion of countries and societies that are alternatives to the U.S. and Western model, we are talking about our own failure without saying it. If nothing else, the Chinese people made a revolution. There is no Western country that has come close to doing that. At the time of the Revolution, China was, if not the poorest, the second-poorest country in the world. Unless we are to believe, which I don’t, that the Chinese government is lying completely about the eradication of extreme poverty — even if it’s only half true, what has been achieved there in 70 years should make a country and a ruling elite like the U.S. embarrassed. The achievements of the Chinese Revolution, in and through crises and contradictions, showed humanity — and here I would like to begin with humanity in the U.S., the humanity that Iknow best — that it is possible to radically change relationships of power, and to redefine democracy so that the people are in a different position vis-à-vis the state. If we can’t accept that something world-historic and profound happened in China in 1949, and that there has been a process of attempting to deal with some of the most difficult social, sociological, economic, and political problems that any society has faced, and that it has done well in spite of its mistakes, in spite of the Cultural Revolution — if we can’t acknowledge that, I don’t know what we’re talking about, or whether we have the authority to talk about anything related to revolution.

The second thing is that we need to be clear about the categories through which we understand what we claim we are talking about. Philosophically and epistemologically, the category of “democracy” means different things under different circumstances at different times in history. Democracy in the U.S., as defined in the American Revolution, is different in 1776 than the democracy that was defined during and after the Civil War in the 1860s. “Democracy” in 1776 did not mean the enslaved proletariat would have rights. The assumption was that democracy would be possible while enslaving four-million Africans, who were an African proletariat. The freeing of that proletariat made it possible to think of a new democracy. It was not realized. In the 1950s–70s, the nation went through another democratic revolution. Like the second revolution or the Civil War, while many gains were made, the Third American Revolution was crushed by counterrevolution. I need only mention the public assassinations in the 1960s, beginning with President John F. Kennedy and ending with his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, and, in-between that, the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m not clear, when we’re talking about democracy, if we’re just talking about civil liberties, in the Western definition, without reference to the nature of the state. The nature of the state is the foundational question that every revolutionary asks. Rather than reducing the question of democracy in China to whether or not they have civil liberties, an approach defined by the American Civil Liberties Union or their equivalent in other Western capitalist countries, we have to look profoundly at what is going on in China.

Let us not confuse protests of different sectors of the society with a working-class uprising. Certainly, they are propagandized or defined as struggling against a repressive, totalitarian regime. But what revolutionary state in the 20th and now the 21st century has not been defined as totalitarian? Every single one of them has been. Each of them has faced protests. Each of them faced legitimate demands by their people for wider rights. But a society cannot leap outside of its material conditions.

What are the stages and possibilities for the development of not just democracy? I agree with everyone’s point that, without democracy, societies cannot evolve to socialist economic relationships, and ultimately to communist social relationships. What do we mean by “democracy”? Whose democracy? For whom? I agree with those who say that the COVID lockdown policy was bungled. But what about the long march from 1949 until today? How do we measure that, and what do we learn from it? In the U.S., we revolutionaries learned that the process of transition from capitalism to socialism, from bourgeois democracy to working-class democracy, from “individual rights” to collective rights, from economies that are completely dependent upon the main centers of capitalist power and their currencies — from that to what we want is a more difficult process than most would acknowledge. I caution that we have to be mature in our understanding of the complexities and difficulties of revolutionary processes. The Chinese people and the CCP deserve, not unconditionally, our support.

In the U.S., where every movement of discontent is called “terrorist,” “anti-democratic,” and even “fascist,” we revolutionaries have a responsibility to be clear about what time of day it is in history, and that the Chinese people are waging a heroic struggle to build a new society under the most difficult conditions and now under threat of war, perhaps even nuclear war.

Responses

CH: First I’ll respond to David. He was talking about this arcane and productivist notion of Marxism, whereby China was defined by this original sin: they had a peasant revolution, and in order for it to truly develop socialism, the bourgeoisie will have to take power. That’s something he thinks we should support. And it will develop in that way. I want to highlight the inconsistency of this viewpoint. On the reasons why China resorted to peasant revolution, I recommend the book Mao Zedong Thought by Wang Fanxi,[8] who was a Chinese Trotskyist. The book is a mature meditation on why the Chinese Trotskyists failed, and also the strengths and weaknesses of the doctrines of Mao and the political structure which was promulgated. One thing Fanxi points out is that originally and naïvely, we expounded the need for urban revolution. Of course, we know that failed, and it was beheaded when Chiang Kai-Shek massacred the urban communist cells in 1927. But Fanxi also acknowledges that the Chinese Communists — whatever derangements or defects that led to ideology — strategically they got it right: if you wanted to make a revolution, you needed to mobilize the peasant population, because they’re the vast majority of the people.

There's a misunderstanding of world-systems theory and the Global South that’s going on when someone like David talks. Even if China had had its bourgeois revolution — we know with Sun Yatsen that sort of happened in 1912, and subsequently collapsed in short order — it never would have developed the way it did. It’s clear if you read someone like Samir Amin, or even just look around at the world, it’s not the case that if you’re a poor country, if you just have a bourgeois capitalist society, suddenly everything’s great and develops: the contradiction between labor and capital simplifies, and communism is achieved — great!

That's a dubious view. Look at countries that didn’t engage in this process of delinking, e.g., in Africa. These countries were relentlessly and brutally exploited by the West, often while having governments that nominally committed themselves to liberal democratic principles. In the 20th century, the most successful efforts, in terms of improving living conditions, were Russia (200 million raised out of poverty with the Soviet Union) and China (800 million people raised out of poverty). It’s ironic when somebody like David presents a fabulistic and pro-Western account of history. He says, “now we just get rid of the CCP and have a bourgeois revolution.” To some extent China’s still in that position because they’re a fifth or a sixth as wealthy as the U.S. in per capita GDP. They're still in the position where there would be a severe threat if all the capital controls and forms of national control that exist there were quickly dismantled; they would be at risk of having their society rapidly co-opted by Western capital. When we talk about authoritarianism, it’s important to talk about the conditions in which that’s created and what it’s intended to do.

Griffith seemed to present a vision of China whereby everyone in China hates the totalitarianism of the government, and these protests are the emphatic expression of that, that these are domestic processes, that there's not a high level of tampering of the West. I would like to point to the fact that Harvard University has vetted a study that was performed in China — these are vetted by Western institutions, they’re not CCP statistics — that indicated that support for the government of China is 88%. We can say they manipulate the media, etc., but the most obvious cause of that level of satisfaction is not just the social guarantees that Chinese people enjoy, which are immense relative to their level of wealth, but also the fact that for many Chinese people, every day in the past 40 years is better than the day that came before that, which attests to many of their successes in governing.

About intervention, I’ll bring up the story of a man named Adrian Zenz because we’re talking a little about Uyghurs and because people will make the allegation of genocide in Xinjiang. Whatever oppressions are going on in Xinjiang, it’s interesting that Adrian Zenz, a researcher, is funded by the U.S. military and the U.S.’s Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which is an organization funded by the U.S. government and is so biased that they wrote that all COVID deaths in China should be treated as deaths by communism. That’s the support Zenz received. He wrote a paper and included a footnote in it with bizarre and illogically aggregated statistics, where he claims that China may be imposing abortions on Uyghur women in order to lower the Uyghur birth rate, and if this were the case it could technically be classified as genocide.

If China is trying to repress the Uyghur birth rate, they're not doing a good job, because the Uyghur birth rate hasn't shown signs of receding; it is higher than the Han birth rate in the region. The U.S. and China were in a trade war, so this claim that he made was brought to the attention of the U.S. State Department. Mike Pompeo went to the State Department lawyers and investigators and said, “I want you to research whether there's a genocide going on.” Those researchers and lawyers came back and said, “there's no proof and it doesn’t seem like it.” Mike Pompeo said, “I don't care. We're in a trade war. I want you to say there’s a genocide going on.” And that's what happened. They overrode their own specialists. Two weeks after that was announced, Joe Biden started talking about a genocide in Xinjiang. Two weeks later you have Justin Trudeau in Canada talking about that, and eventually the message is assimilated by the entire Western world in an uncritical way, with no reference to the U.S. organizations that planted and disseminated that message.

DM: I acknowledge the accomplishments of the Chinese Revolution. It’s just that I think there was a counterrevolution in 1976 after the death of Mao. I certainly don’t think that Mao made a mistake in undertaking the peasant revolution. But the bourgeoisie was obviously not up to the job in China carrying out that process.

We’re going through a period which is the battle for bourgeois democracy. We’ve got to defend and extend bourgeois democracy in the bourgeois democracies, and we’ve got to assist those living in places like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela — all those places where people live under tyranny. We should see their battle for bourgeois democracy as an essential part of the job of the next generation. Only on that basis can we think about proletarian revolution. It is impossible to organize a revolutionary movement in a fascist country, or at least it is difficult. Having a fascist country next door is very dangerous if you have a revolution. The regimes in places like China or Cuba don’t deserve any support whatsoever on any basis. They offer nothing. There’s no residual of anything positive about them. They are a threat to their own people, and they are tyrannies.

Conrad made the point on the dangers of China being integrated into Western capitalism. The rest of the world is, so what’s the problem? Capitalism is supposed to be global.

GJ: Adrian Zenz should be paid by the CCP and not the CIA, because he's done more to discredit solid academic scholarship on the Uyghur problem than anyone else in the world. Read Darren Beiler if you want an objective analysis, but you won’t come away thinking that the CCP is much better than the impression that Adrian Zenz tries to give. You're completely wrong about the birth rate of the Uyghurs, Conrad. It has been falling since mass incarceration started in 2017.

I want to focus on economic progress because Tony, Conrad, and even David acknowledged the increase in the standard of living and GDP. I hate to break it to you, but the success of the Chinese economy is not because of CCP brilliance. It’s not because of any innate genius of the Chinese people. It's rather down to capitalism. As far as Americans criticizing China goes, let’s remember the American working class is decimated because production was moved out of the U.S. and into China. This is part of the China boom. It is the combination of Western capital and technology, combined with the CCP, brutal militarization, and regimentation of the Chinese working class that made for this economic boom. It’s down to capitalism, not socialism. There’s something interesting about this two-track understanding of China. In Chinese diplomatic communication the English versions are always different from the original Chinese versions, because the CCP is adept at tailoring its message, injecting propaganda into virtually every expression of the Chinese government. For example, in the 2008 Olympics a huge deal was made internationally about 600 million people lifted out of poverty by the CCP, but that was never repeated within China. Why? Because the Chinese people know the reality is it’s only when the CCP decided to take its hand off of the tiller that Chinese economic expansion began in earnest.

AM: It’s hard to know where to begin in such a discussion, and I don’t mean any disrespect. I seem to proceed from assumptions that are different from my colleagues here. Let me begin with my assumptions. There was a revolution we call the Chinese Revolution and the declaration of a People’s Republic of China. Although led by Communists, the Communist Party knew, sensed, or believed that the transition to develop socialism — or even moderately develop socialism — would be more arduous. It would be — as they have analogized their process — as arduous as the Long March. No one knew at the time of the Russian Revolution, even with five-year planning and so on, that the process would be much more difficult than was thought, that theory guiding this process did not exist. Here Lenin is instructive and helpful in his understanding of the state in The State and Revolution (1917), which one could consider a theoretical treatise on democracy in argument with John Locke, while acknowledging bourgeois democracy as did Mao and the Chinese Communists in 1949. There were mistakes made in China. The Cultural Revolution was a huge mistake and a setback to the process. However, the resilience of the Party and the Chinese people has reversed many of those mistakes.

We should ask if we’re using the same metrics — did the Chinese eliminate 800 million people from poverty or extreme poverty? Did this or something like it happen? If it happened, do we say this was the result of the U.S. transferring capital and hence jobs from the U.S. to China? Before the transfer of capital from the U.S to China, there was poverty in the U.S., and since then, even with the attempt to repatriate capital, there has been poverty. We might be looking at one of the more severe recessions in modern history in the coming months which will add to the impoverishment. Maybe there’s something that I don’t see, and the Chinese government is so skillful and can hide it from the world public; but I don’t see anything similar in Chinese cities to what we have right here in Philadelphia: huge drug markets with hundreds of young people, and in U.S. society, majority young white people living on the streets, addicted to Fentanyl and other drugs. I haven’t seen that; it doesn’t exist in China; it doesn’t exist among the Uyghurs; it doesn’t exist in Tibet. In a comparative measurement sense, in a historical sense, without the government of the CCP, without the Revolution, today China would be where they were relative to the rest of the world in 1949.

How do we measure democracy, what democracy, and for whom? If polls conducted by Western institutions say that 84% of the Chinese people feel that the government serves their interest while in the U.S., the so-called beacon of democracy — and Biden with his Democracy Summit — 60% of the people say that the government is corrupt and does not serve their interest.

Q & A

The last question in the panel prompt is, “how might the struggle for socialism internationally inform the struggle for socialism in China, and vice versa?” I want to make this question more dramatic. As a thought experiment, imagine a member of the Chinese proletariat here. What would you tell them? How would you tell them to struggle for socialism? What if there were a member of the American or Australian proletariat here?

DM: I’d be saying to the Chinese proletariat, “unite the many against the few, against the tyranny.” That means you’re aligning with a whole range of people who are not communists, not proletarian socialists, because that’s the stage of the revolution at the moment. At the same time, I’d point out the limitations of that and the fact that the bourgeoisie or any bourgeois forces cannot be relied on. At the moment, it is still a bourgeois-democratic struggle rather than a struggle for socialism.

CH: With respect to the successes the CCP has undeniably had, it’s important to recognize what those are and also not to foreclose the possibility of a greater transformation. We know that whatever the failures of the Cultural Revolution, which Mao initially launched under the banner of the idea that there was a new bourgeoisie crystalizing in China and within the Party itself, even in societies that declare themselves to be socialist, class stratifications do exist. To someone who’s in the Chinese proletariat, I’d say, “struggle for more; struggle to push the system in a more socialist direction. But also, be aware that with any kind of instability that’s going to be wrought through that struggle, there will be an aggressive attempt by Western countries to exploit that.” One has to be careful about backsliding. It’s a delicate position.

As regards to someone from the Western proletariat, I’d say to them that there’s been a narrative diffused in the past few years that the automation of jobs is pushing us toward an accelerationist crisis. I don’t wish to suggest that’s wrong — these are serious issues. The most common job in the U.S. is to be a truck driver, and self-driving cars could put a lot of people out of work.We have to understand that there’s been a flurry of demographic factors that favor the boosting of the value of labor power. In the U.S., there was a reduction in immigration during the Trump years, which is not just a question of policy but also a question of environment, the deaths caused by COVID — a generational shift where you have Baby Boomers passing away — and the repatriation of capital in this trade war with China that Anthony was talking about. There is a possibility for labor to become more powerful in the U.S. in the next few years, and it has to push to prevent war with China, among other objectives, because there are people in the U.S. trying to choke China economically. U.S. labor has to oppose war, but also to remember that there’s a good chance that if America actually gets its war with China, it won’t necessarily win. If there’s a war pursued and there’s a failure that occurs in that context, the discreditation to American liberal capitalism would be so severe that it may create the possibility of a strengthened labor movement stepping in and seizing more power.

GJ: The support for the CCP that’s reflected in polls like the Harvard one is motivated not by admiration for or confidence in the CCP as a leadership so much as it is motivated by a fear of chaos, which runs deep in Chinese culture and consciousness precisely because of the experience of things like the Great Leap Forward and the chaotic decades of the 20th century before the Revolution.

To the Chinese proletariat, I would say, “do not fear disruption to assert your own rights.” I wouldn’t say, “you haven’t got it so bad; your government speaks in progressive and revolutionary terms.” Yes, Li Keqiang admitted that over half of the population is living on less than $135 U.S. a month, and generalized poverty is still a great problem, or that extreme poverty was eliminated both by a general advance of the standard of living but also by bureaucratic gimmicks whereby the poorest Chinese were forced to move into wealthier counties so that the average could be raised. No, I wouldn’t tell them that it’s not so bad being essentially like a U.S. undocumented worker, which is the status for hundreds of millions of Chinese workers, the very heartbeat of the factory of the world that China has become, because they live in a bifurcated society where people in the countryside, regardless of whether they move to the city to work, are forced to receive their social services in the countryside — in other words, they get nothing. There is a gross disparity — the Gini coefficient in China is higher than that in the U.S. We have to disabuse ourselves of these romantic notions based on report-backs from people who do a two-week, Potemkin-style guided tour around China and say, “oh my God, there’s public housing!” — no, there isn’t much public housing at all — “their healthcare system is so much better than in the U.S.!” – no, their healthcare system is not better, and, boy, we’re going to see that all too clearly in the coming months.

I would tell U.S. workers, “don’t look at the Chinese people as your enemy; they are not your enemy.” Internationalism is the only way forward for workers of all countries, and that’s why I walk around with a button saying, “labor solidarity has no borders.” There is a lot to say to the Chinese working class and it starts with “you have a right to organize yourselves, and if you have to do it in secret, do it in secret.” That’s what the organization I belong to is doing now.

AM: For me, it’s the ethics that revolutionaries must live by. I would speak first to my own working class, who have been, for over 100 years now since the October Revolution, propagandized with the idea that communism, but also socialism and socialist democracy, are the worst of all outcomes for humanity and the working class. For those of us living in the U.S., we don’t have the luxury of others. Our country and, better yet, our ruling class, is the major purveyor of violence in the world, and uses war — as we see with the Biden administration and the statements of Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State, about the Euro-Asian colossus. We revolutionaries in any country walk a tightrope. But we must also be aware that the source of the counterrevolution is not China, not the CCP, but it is the Western ruling classes. They are the counterrevolutionaries, whatever the problems are. People who live in Hong Kong or places closer to China might see things in a different way, but there is no way to say to the Chinese proletariat or the Western proletariat, and in particular the U.S proletariat, that the U.S. is anything less than the great threat to humanity through war.

If China were such a capitalist country, why is it not treated in the same way as Germany is treated. The ruling class of the U.S. is very class conscious; our problem is that they’re more class conscious than the working class, maybe more than the Chinese proletariat. The ruling class’s consciousness leads them to the recognition that counterrevolution is a means to resolve the crisis that they have with their own working classes, and in the case of the U.S. working class.

Rosa Luxemburg called herself a Bolshevik, but also wrote a critique of the Russian Revolution, and said that the fate of the Russian Revolution was bound out with the international proletariat. She said that whatever problems one might find with the police measures that might have had to happen in Russia, especially during the Civil War, were due to the responsibility of “the international military” but especially the German proletariat. I feel that sometimes, as Anthony was bringing up, when one gives either an affirmation or a condemnation of China it happens in an abstract fashion. It’s outside of raising the necessity of the question of the working classes in the West and primarily in the U.S in terms of the concentration of capital. We should think about how the Chinese Revolution would have to raise the necessity of a revolution in America as well. It seems the American ruling class is more class conscious than everybody else, which raises the question of how there’s a fault in the socialist Left worldwide. How does one raise the necessity of how the Chinese Revolution also passed the rest of the world with following through in that case, making that explicit?

CH: Much of what Rosa Luxemburg wrote about the USSR turned out to be prophetic. When we're talking about the 20th century there is — and Platypus has their ear to this — this absolute tragedy, the tragedy of the Russian Revolution to materialize into something larger at a global scale. Part of the problem with the Western analysis, which is often diffused in arcs and circles, is when you stop there and say, “that did not work; these places are capitalist, etc.” It’s useful to read Amin and world-systems theory on this issue. What happened was that these countries, which were less developed and didn’t receive solidarity from the West, were forced to develop themselves. That was a process that had many lapses and failures. Nevertheless, looking at any more or less objective social or economic metric, it succeeded to a greater degree than what we see within the forms of liberal capitalism which were diffused in the global South. On your question about how we link up these forms of struggle, I want to go back to the formulation that I used before and point out that, right now, you have a U.S. ruling class that is almost neurotically fixated on the goal of obstructing the ascendance of China, which is the most powerful non-white country in the world since the 19th century. The Western Left has to oppose this, but it also raises possibilities. The U.S. political and capitalist class has not, in recent memory, been up against an adversary as formidable as China. In the 1970s and 80s, the rhetoric was about the inevitability of the threat posed by Japan. In addition to having half the population in the U.S., Japan was unable to develop its own domestic military. There’s no real comparison in terms of the formidability of these countries. There must be advocacy against war, but there’s also a serious possibility that the U.S. may be in the throes of overextending itself in the South Pacific. This may create opportunities for a progressive intervention and the sought-after possibility of achieving a more global revolution and rescuing the socialist states of the global South from the exile from the Western proletariat that’s been imposed on them for the better part of the last century.

How would you define or redefine socialism regarding China? We claim to be a socialist state but apparently it works in a fascist or capitalist way. You can also argue about the presentation of socialism in the country. Speaking of the Blank Paper Revolution, I want to bring your attention to the Foxconn uprising, which happened just the day before the Blank Paper Revolution. It happened in Henan in the middle of China, where there's a factory with thousands of workers, and they wanted to get paid properly before the Spring Festival. It was an economic uprising instead of a political one. They fought against the police hired by the local entrepreneurs, and they succeeded; they won travel money to go home. In contrast we have this political movement, rather than an economic one, in the Blank Paper Revolution. Most of the participants are students, and it was initiated by students at the Communication University of China, Nanjing, and other universities. Sure, there were economic cutbacks during the zero-COVID policy when people went on the street, but it’s mainly a political movement. In the Leninist tradition, we have the separation between the economic and political struggle towards socialism. I’m not sure how much we want to investigate the socialist or bourgeois element inside the Blank Paper Revolution, because they don’t have any pure economic goals. Because they are students, they have some access to the foreign internet, information beyond the great firewall, but they still organize poorly. How do we declare that something is socialist in China? How do we want to define the character of this protest, of the movement? If this is not a socialist movement, how could we bring it into socialism?

DM: There are no signs in China that the regime is creating the conditions for a transition from capitalism to communism. It is not rallying the masses to transform society. It is a completely reactionary regime which is there for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. There is nothing to rescue. There needs to be a bourgeois revolution before you can even think of socialism. The only question is of the trade unions. The trade unions would have an important role. Or a workers’ underground organization, which plays an important role in this struggle and resistance to the regime. I imagine that would have a socialist element to it, with people seeing that the ultimate task was proletarian revolution. But they would still see their immediate role as uniting with everyone against the regime.

CH: We have to be careful with students because we have examples of uprisings which have occurred in history. I’m thinking of May 1968 in France, where you had a stronger Left impulse emanating out of the working class at the point where they joined in the protest. Whereas if you look at the direction of the students at that time, a lot of them became reborn religious figures in the 70s, or Parti socialiste[9] voters; thinkers like Deleuze and Guatarri, who have a substantial amount of anti-Marxist content, were elevated to lofty positions in their cultural sphere. Louis Althusser has an essay about how if we’re talking about May 68 in France and the real possibility of transformation, we have to focus on the role of the workers.

It’s interesting to talk about mass politics in China. In the 80s you had a lot of dialogue about the direction of society, and it is true that in the 90s there was a hollowing out of those modes of consultation. In Tiananmen, there were many working people who put their support behind that. What many wanted was more substantially socialist and democratic. What was characteristic was that the protests became heavily co-opted by the West and by the overrepresentation of the views of a privileged stratum of students who were calling for a liberal democratic transformation. That did a lot to undermine and destroy that movement. It’s not that students can’t play a constructive role, but it’s important to set things in order.

On socialism and its definition, I’m not going to sit here and debate whether we should call China the primary state of socialism or state capitalism, etc. But, after the failure of the global proletariat to support or join the Russian Revolution, socialism comes down to meaning a high level of state control, governments which had diverse class composition, systemic efforts being made to pursue internal development and to prevent Western exploitation. Judged purely on their own terms, a lot of that was successful.
            But it’s like what Althusser says: socialism is not a mode of production. By its nature it’s a messy thing. Even if we look at China today, we’re talking about a place where, yes, you can see many aspects of capitalism within it. You can also see that 132 of the 145 biggest companies are public, that they enjoy far more social benefits than most people who come from comparatively wealthy countries — though I do acknowledge there are serious shortfalls like with undocumented workers and aspects in the healthcare system, etc. We have to acknowledge that we’re dealing with something for which there’s no tidy category, and that the details have to be analyzed empirically rather than just trying to make it fit an all-purpose category of success.

GJ: On the question of how to bring the protests by mostly city dwellers and students into a revolutionary socialist movement, that’s the task of transitional demands, and the central one has to be the right to self-organization by the working class, which includes office workers, IT workers, whole sectors of non-manufacturing, and service-sector employees.

The U.S. is not the source of counterrevolution worldwide. That’s a frankly strange conception. The U.S. ruling class is profoundly counterrevolutionary and will do everything possible, but counterrevolutionary force derives from class relations, and in that sense the CCP, which is more a state than simply a party, is a profoundly counterrevolutionary force. It’s the obstacle to the progress of the Chinese working class! Why isn’t China treated like Germany if it’s capitalist? Both Britain and Germany were capitalists before WWI — that didn’t stop them from going to war. No, it’s precisely because China is capitalist, and is challenging the U.S. in so many capitalist economic ways, that we see the current conflict —  it’s an inter-imperialist conflict.

AM: Of course, we’re talking about metrics and definitions. If the U.S. is not the great counterrevolutionary force in the world, who else is? And what is counterrevolution? No other government speaks so openly about regime change in nations like Russia, and mobilizes resources to do so. If we want a 20th-century definition of counterrevolution, we won’t find it in the 21st century. One skill of the U.S. ruling class is that it can put itself in the garments of democracy to carry out anti-democratic policies. The U.S. military is a strike force of counterrevolution. Perhaps we live in different worlds, but in the world that I live in, if we are talking about the liberation of humanity, we have to liberate humanity from the threats of U.S. imperialism, from the U.S. military.

That places a high responsibility upon the U.S. people. We do not have the luxury of debate about things that shouldn’t be debated, such as “the Chinese state is fascist state.” What is the U.S. then? What is this regime? If we allow the people of each nation to speak — through modern, scientific polling – if over 80% of the Chinese people say that government serves them, and 60% of the U.S. people say that the U.S. government is corrupt and does not serve their interest, and 25% say that they would support the use of arms to overthrow the government, it represents in my country the emergence of something new. That is not what is happening in China. The U.S. people are not protesting for civil liberties; they’re protesting at the essence of it — for democracy, for real democracy. If one wants to talk about fascism and anti-fascism, come to the U.S. That’s where this struggle is occurring.

One last point: how do we view the breakup of the unipolar world and the establishment of a multi-polar world? How does one talk about the movement of almost the entire African continent in support of the global policies of China, and then China-Russia — if all of this is to lead to a corruption of global relationships — and ultimately the recolonization of Africa. You can understand my argument.

GJ: I don’t see how regime change in Russia — a crony-capitalist and imperialist state — constitutes evidence that the U.S. is the source of counterrevolution worldwide. No. Counterrevolution is a result of class relations.

It doesn’t surprise me that anybody who regards the Cultural Revolution as a huge mistake would end up supporting the dictatorship of the billionaires who run China today. The problem in the analysis is the idea that there is a continuum from China in 1949, with the Chinese Revolution, to today. The Cultural Revolution is being reassessed by scholars like Han Dongping, who returned to his village and province to interview people who lived through it. He also had access to provincial archives where he was able to analyze the changes, the benefits, to the everyday people in the area. The Cultural Revolution was an attempt by Mao, who mobilized the mass of people against the capitalist roaders[10] in the CCP, because Mao knew that it was possible for capitalism to be restored in China. We have a theoretical basis there in Mao Zedong thought to explain how this could happen. To think that you could go from revolutionary committees that empowered everyday people to control production and the direction of their lives through to the situation today, where there are a hundred billionaires in the National Assembly alone — heaven knows how many in the CCP — a status quo with facial-recognition technology and a gap between rich and poor that is greater than in America — to call this a continuum is absurd.

How do people here who are pro-CCP reconcile the great education campaign by the Party to restore Confucianism? Confucianism was based on the “three obediences.” It’s the opposite of Mao Zedong thought, the opposite of China when it was revolutionary and the motto was, “it is right to rebel.” The motto under the current fascist regime is, “obey and you’ll be alright.”

CH: When it comes to the Cultural Revolution, I recognize that there were a lot of positive achievements that occurred. We can talk about the foundation being laid for China’s local democracies, which are responsive today. We talk about universities being shuttered for example, or higher levels of education facing obstacles, but there was an immense example of primary education in that period. Undeniably I sympathize with the motivations. The Cultural Revolution as a project had global resonances in terms of it being probably the most ambitious attempt to challenge not just capitalism per se, but in a larger sense, the division between intellectual and manual labor, which is older than capitalism itself.

I do think there was a level of voluntarism. This also has to do with Mao’s theory of contradiction, to the way that this leads to a mistaken idea that one can go beyond the productive forces, which include the relations of production, to a greater degree than was possible. Yes, there was a change afterward, but we have to be clear about the kind of change that was. What happened after the Cultural Revolution was that they backed away from those old ambitions, and what emerged in its stead was what we call the “primary stage of socialism” or “state capitalism.” We see both a continuity and discontinuity, or a continuity and rupture. On one hand those objectives were relinquished, on the other hand we are dealing with a state that continues to have aspects of the socialist legacy.

When people talk about China being fascist or whatever, it’s absurd. If you look at a strong characteristic of fascist regimes — we can even talk about Trotsky here who criticized the Stalinist thesis of social fascism (the idea according to which social democratic states would have been dubbed fascist) — a strong feature of fascism is a violent attempt to repress the most progressive aspects of society. While in China there has been a level of repression of the working class, of neo-Maoist organizations, etc., they’re much less repressed than the far Right. It’s funny when you see these things — for years in the West there was this Falun Gong persecution by the Chinese government, and later on they set up shop and founded The Epoch Times, which is this hysterical vaccine-denying, pro-Trump out, and it could rightfully be described as fascist. I agree with Anthony that way: it’s dangerous to conflate that. Even when we use words like “imperialist” — China has not had a serious war since the People’s Republic of China took power in 1949. If we talk about their engagements in Africa, sometimes it’s just building free infrastructure in order to curry favor, other times it’s based on resource swaps. Those countries are accepting those deals because they’re preferable to the deals that are being offered by the West. What’s conspicuously true is that what we’re not seeing China do in Africa is what the West has done all over the world, which is move-in and use limitless martial violence to try to achieve their economic goals. Even to talk about inter-imperialist conflict is to subject the global situation to a false equivalence.

AM: The categories of analysis and definitions among the panelists are vastly different, and maybe my life experience positions me to think about the world differently than my colleagues. Conrad’s notion: does all of this get reduced to inter-imperialist contradictions, or inter-capitalist contradictions between China and the U.S.? I don’t have any indication that the U.S. ruling class sees itself in that kind of struggle with China. If you listen to them talk, they say that the Chinese nation and the Chinese state present an existential problem for the U.S. There are those who talk about resolving that contradiction through war with China. I don’t know that China has called for war with the U.S., or that China has aircraft carriers, submarines, and nuclear-tipped missiles off the shores of the U.S. I don’t understand — and you can say it as many times as you want; it does not convince me and it does not comport with historical reality — the claim that China is a fascist state. That would take us down a dangerous road, where the only resolution, to cite the Communist Manifesto, would be the ruin of all classes.[11] That is what the type of war with China would do: a world war, the ruin of all classes. We have a responsibility as revolutionaries not to speak from pure emotion, but from scientific knowledge and ethical and political responsibility.

GJ: The question of fascism in China is a good one, and I’m glad that the questioner used that phrase yet again, so we get to talk about it. I see three key aspects in which you could characterize the CCP regime as fascist. First is the ultranationalism, the insane Han-Chinese chauvinism on display internally with Chinese propaganda. It’s even rebounded on the CCP itself, as for example when Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan (2022). When Pelosi’s plane was not shot down by the Chinese air force, there was a wave of condemnation of the CCP by exactly these Little Pinks[12] that the CCP has been so assiduously cultivating for the past ten years. It was quite a sight.

Second is the anti-woman, anti-gay, male-dominated cultural emphasis. The lack of women in the top leadership at the 20th Party Congress is just one small example. It started in 2012, with the rewriting of the Constitution to degrade women’s legal rights, which has been in every way to force women into a child-bearing role to try to reverse the demographic armageddon.

Lastly, the questioner mentioned the re-emphasis of traditional values, like Confucianism. That’s not to say that they’re like the evangelicals in Chris Hedges’s American Fascists (2007), but they have gone 180 degrees on all the principles of equality and openness.

The question of the accomplishments of the Chinese economy should not be synonymous with recognition of the accomplishments of the CCP. It’s an error that gets made constantly, to the immense benefit of the CCP, but it will be less justifiable when the economy is moving backwards. It breaks the iron compact that the CCP had with the Chinese masses over the past 40 years, which is, “we’ll constantly improve your standard of living, and you’ll give us absolute control.” That’s already changing.

DM: I like the Communist International’s definition of fascism: “the open terroristic dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” We definitely have that in China: the ultranationalism, anti-women, and anti-gay elements. About the Western ruling class being the main problem, I just don’t see that. I see the ruling classes in places like China and Russia as far more of a problem. We have the most appalling situation in Eastern Europe, where Russia is invading Ukraine, and the Left should be giving its fullest possible support to Ukraine. We should be fully supporting NATO’s assistance, and in fact demanding that NATO provide more assistance to Ukraine.

CH: It fills me with a great disappointment and sadness to hear some of the remarks of other people here. If you look at the breakdown of the Left in the U.S., you have a period after WWII in the English-speaking world in which hysterical anti-communist propaganda is diffused and comes to exert an influence over intellectuals and the working class. Later we can talk about the direct hollowing out of the working class in the name of globalization.

Over the past few minutes alone you have heard that China is fascist because nationalism exists there and there are a few social-conservative policies. I don’t know in what sense that’s a criterion of fascism. You have heard that China is a bigger threat to the world than the U.S., in spite of having not waged a war since 1949 and not engaged military in terms of its foreign interactions, which seems absurd as a proposition. You’ve furthermore heard as a nice addendum that the real thing Leftists should be supporting is the aggressive military expansion of Western capitalist power through NATO. This is an incredibly propagandistic and one-dimensional iteration of that conflict that was just repeated. It’s exactly what Anthony said: we have to try to look critically at the global picture; we have to read outside of these sources that are being funneled to us and are funded heavily by the Western military-industrial and political complex. That’s the only way we’re going to get to the bottom of this issue.

DM: We’re definitely enemies, that’s quite clear. |P


[1] Video of the panel is available online at <https://youtu.be/OUa-ytdKEkI>.

[2] Also known as the White Paper Protests, which were protests in 2022 against the Chinese government’s measures regarding the spread of COVID-19.

[3] Mao Tse-tung, “Introducing a Co-operative” (1958), available online at <https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-8/mswv8_09.htm>.

[4] The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007 was authored by Bart Gordon and signed into law on August 9, 2007, by President George W. Bush.

[5] See <http://wyzxwk.com>, founded in 2003 by Fan Jinggang.

[6] “Resolution of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on the Report of the 19th Central Committee” (October 22, 2022).

[7] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Proletarians and Communists,” in The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), available online at <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm>.

[8] Written ca. 1949, first published in 1973.

[9] Socialist Party (France), founded in 1969.

[10] A Maoist term for one who bows to the pressure from bourgeois forces and attempts to take the Chinese Revolution down a capitalist road.

[11] Marx and Engels, “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” in The Manifesto of the Communist Party.

[12] A term used to describe young jingoistic Chinese nationalists on the internet, the majority of whom are women between 18 and 24 years old.