[Marxism] Burkett & Hart-Landsberg: "full-fledged capitalist restoration" in China

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 1 09:56:01 MDT 2004

Monthly Review, July-August 2004
Introduction: China and Socialism
by Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett

China and socialism...during the three decades following the 1949 
establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it seemed as if 
these words would forever be joined in an inspiring unity. China had 
been forced to suffer the humiliation of defeat in the 1840–42 Opium War 
with Great Britain and the ever-expanding treaty port system that 
followed it. The Chinese people suffered under not only despotic rule by 
their emperor and then a series of warlords, but also under the crushing 
weight of imperialism, which divided the country into foreign-controlled 
spheres of influence. Gradually, beginning in the 1920s, the Chinese 
Communist Party led by Mao Zedong organized growing popular resistance 
to the foreign domination and exploitation of the country and the 
dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek. The triumph of the revolution under the 
leadership of the Chinese Communist Party finally came in 1949, when the 
party proclaimed it would bring not only an end to the suffering of the 
people but a new democratic future based on the construction of socialism.

There can be no doubt that the Chinese revolution was a world historic 
event and that tremendous achievements were made under the banner of 
socialism in the decades that followed. However, it is our opinion that 
this reality should not blind us to three important facts: first, at the 
time of Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese people remained far from 
achieving the promises of socialism. Second, beginning in 1978 the 
Chinese Communist Party embarked on a market-based reform process that, 
while allegedly designed to reinvigorate the effort to build socialism, 
has actually led in the opposite direction and at great cost to the 
Chinese people. And finally, progressives throughout the world continue 
to identify with and take inspiration from developments in China, seeing 
the country’s rapid export-led growth as either confirmation of the 
virtues of market socialism or proof that, regardless of labels, active 
state direction of the economy can produce successful development within 
a capitalist world system.

As much as we were also inspired by the Chinese revolution, we have for 
some time believed that this continuing identification by progressives 
with China and its “socialist market economy” represents not only a 
serious misreading of the Chinese reform experience but, even more 
important, a major impediment to the development of the theoretical and 
practical understandings required to actually advance socialism in China 
and elsewhere.

As we will argue in this book, it is our position that China’s market 
reforms have led not to socialist renewal but rather to full-fledged 
capitalist restoration, including growing foreign economic domination. 
Significantly, this outcome was driven by more than simple greed and 
class interest. Once the path of pro-market reforms was embarked upon, 
each subsequent step in the reform process was largely driven by 
tensions and contradictions generated by the reforms themselves. The 
weakening of central planning led to ever more reliance on market and 
profit incentives, which in turn encouraged the privileging of private 
enterprises over state enterprises and, increasingly, of foreign 
enterprises and markets over domestic ones. Although a correct 
understanding of the dynamics of China’s reform process supports the 
Marxist position that market socialism is an unstable formation, this 
important insight has largely been lost because of the continuing 
widespread belief by many progressives that China remains in some sense 
a socialist country. This situation cannot help but generate confusion 
about the meaning of socialism while strengthening the ideological 
position of those who oppose it.

Many other progressive scholars and activists dismiss arguments about 
the meaning of socialism as irrelevant to the challenges of development 
faced by people throughout the world. They look at China’s record of 
rapid and sustained export-led growth and conclude that China is a 
development model, with a growth strategy that can and should be 
emulated by other countries. We believe, and argue in this book, that 
this celebration of China is a serious mistake, one that reflects a 
misunderstanding not only of the Chinese experience but also of the 
dynamics and contradictions of capitalism as an international system. In 
fact, an examination of the effects of China’s economic transformation 
on the region’s other economies makes clear that the country’s growth is 
intensifying competitive pressures and crisis tendencies to the 
detriment of workers throughout the region, including in China.

Our differences with leftists and progressives might never have produced 
a book about China if it were not for our May 2003 trip to Cuba to 
attend an international conference on Marxism.1 While in the country we 
sought to learn what we could about how Cuba was responding to its 
economic difficulties, and how the government’s understanding of and 
commitment to socialism was shaping that response. We were told 
repeatedly that many Cuban economists looked to the Chinese “market 
socialist” growth strategy as an attractive model for Cuba.

We hoped that this was not true. But at the conference itself, when the 
discussion turned toward the challenges facing Cuba, several Cuban 
economists publicly endorsed the Chinese experience of rapid export-led 
growth based on foreign direct investment (FDI) as offering the only 
hope for Cuba to sustain its socialist project under current 
international conditions. Although these economists were only repeating 
arguments we had heard from progressives in other countries, they were 
especially jarring to hear at a conference concerned with the 
contemporary relevance of Marxism and in a context where there was 
little gain to be imagined for the economists making them. Fidel Castro 
was also at the conference and the Cuban government had already firmly 
rejected market socialism.

We are certainly not the first social scientists to criticize 
developments in China from a Marxist perspective.2 But it seems clear to 
us that the importance of China in shaping debates about development and 
socialism has only grown. And we feel that the confusion surrounding 
China’s post-reform experiences signifies a deeper theoretical and 
political confusion about Marxism and socialism that greatly hurts our 
collective efforts to build a world free from alienation, oppression, 
and exploitation. Thus, we have ventured to offer our own contribution 
to the study of China and socialism, focusing our critique on the 
economic dynamics, social consequences, and political implications of 
China’s market reform process. Despite the fact that our work focuses on 
China, we hope and intend that the issues raised and considered will 
also have significance for people concerned with social developments and 
struggles in countries other than China.

full: http://www.monthlyreview.org/0704intro.htm


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