[Marxism] Moderator's note/China

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 21 09:39:01 MST 2006

>CB: Please do post it.
>I just have this feeling that you probably had a lot of criticism of China
>even before the turn to market socialism. Maybe I'm wrong. Aren't you a lot
>more of booster of pre-market socialism China than you were when it was
>actually pre-market socialism China ? Wasn't China too Stalinist before
>pre-market socialism ?

Yes, China was definitely too Stalinist. In any case, here are some 
excerpts from the NLR article that are focused on China. Much of it also 
deals with the West, but are of less interest for the matter at hand:


Chinese commentators have been curiously absent from international 
discussions about the Sixties, despite the fact that the Cultural 
Revolution was so central to that tumultuous decade. [1] This silence, I 
would argue, represents not merely a rejection of the radical thought and 
practice of the Cultural Revolution but a negation of China’s whole 
‘revolutionary century’—the era stretching from the Republican Revolution 
in 1911 to around 1976. The century’s prologue was the period running from 
the failure of the Hundred-Day Reform in 1898 to the 1911 Wuchang uprising; 
its epilogue was the decade from the late 1970s through to 1989. During 
this whole epoch the French and Russian Revolutions were central models for 
China, and orientations towards them defined the political divisions of the 
time. The New Culture movement of the May Fourth period championed the 
French Revolution, and its values of liberty, equality and fraternity; 
first-generation Communist Party members took the Russian Revolution as a 
model, criticizing the bourgeois character of 1789. Following the crisis of 
socialism and the rise of reform in the 1980s, the aura of the Russian 
Revolution diminished and the ideals of the French Revolution reappeared. 
But with the final curtain-fall on China’s revolutionary century, the 
radicalism of both the French and the Russian experiences had become a 
target of criticism. The Chinese rejection of the Sixties is thus not an 
isolated historical incident, but an organic component of a continuing and 
totalizing de-revolutionary process.

Why do the Sixties seem to be more of a Western than an Asian topic today? 
First, although the Western and the Asian Sixties were connected, there 
were also very important differences. In Europe and America, the rise of 
the Sixties protest movements saw an interrogation of capitalism’s 
political institutions and a far-reaching critique of its culture. The 
Western Sixties targeted the post-war state, ruthlessly criticizing its 
domestic and foreign policies. By contrast, in Southeast Asia (particularly 
Indochina) and other regions, the uprisings of the Sixties took the form of 
armed struggles against Western imperialist domination and social 
oppression. Revolutionary political movements fought to transform the 
nation-state, to create their own sovereign space for economic development 
and social transformation. In today’s context, the armed revolutions of the 
Sixties seem to have vanished from memory as well as thought; the problems 
of capitalist critique remain.

A second point concerns the particular character of the Chinese Sixties. 
Beginning in the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China was unfailingly 
supportive of Third World liberation movements and the non-aligned movement 
generally, to the point of clashing with the world’s greatest military 
power, the United States, in Korea and Vietnam. When European radicals 
developed a left critique of Stalinism in the Sixties, they discovered that 
China had already developed a far-reaching critical analysis of the 
orthodox Soviet line. Yet as China’s wholly new form of party-state was 
being established, the corrosion of depoliticization was already beginning 
to set in. Its most important manifestations were bureaucratization and 
internal power struggles within the party-state, which in turn led to the 
suppression of discursive freedom. In launching the Cultural Revolution, 
Mao and others sought a range of tactics to combat these tendencies, yet 
the end result was always that these struggles became implicated in the 
very processes—of ‘depoliticizing’ faction fights and 
bureaucratization—that they were designed to combat, leading to renewed 
political repression and the rigidification of the party-state.

Even before 1976, the Sixties had lost their lustre in the eyes of many 
Chinese because of the continuous factional struggles and political 
persecutions that had occurred during the Cultural Revolution. Following 
the death of Mao and the restoration to power of Deng Xiaoping and others, 
the Chinese state undertook a ‘thorough negation’ of the Cultural 
Revolution from the late seventies. Combined with popular feelings of doubt 
and disappointment, this led to a fundamental change in attitudes that has 
lasted to the present day. Over the past thirty years, China has 
transformed itself from a planned economy to a market society, from a 
headquarters of world revolution to a thriving centre of capitalist 
activity, from a Third World anti-imperialist nation to one of 
imperialism’s ‘strategic partners’. Today, the most powerful counter to any 
attempts at critical analysis of China’s problems—the crisis in 
agricultural society, the widening gap between rural and urban sectors, 
institutionalized corruption—is: ‘So, do you want to return to the days of 
the Cultural Revolution?’ The eclipse of the Sixties is a product of this 
depoliticization; the process of ‘radical negation’ has diminished the 
possibility for any real political criticism of current historical trends.
Revolutionary endings

How then should we understand the politicization of the earlier post-war 
era? The outcome of the two World Wars had served to dismantle the 
Eurocentric inter-state system; with the onset of the Cold War, the world 
order was defined above all by the antagonistic division between the us and 
Soviet blocs. One prodigious accomplishment of the Sixties was to break of 
this bi-polar order. From the Bandung conference in 1955 to the victory of 
the Vietnamese Revolution in 1975, the social movements and armed struggles 
in Asia, Africa and Latin America took the form of a ‘politicization 
process’ that forced an opening in the Cold War order. Mao’s ‘Three Worlds 
Theory’ was a response to this new historical configuration. As the 
national liberation movements broke the grip of Western imperialism, the 
rupturing of the Communist bloc that began with the Sino-Soviet split also 
created a space for renewed debate on the future of socialism. Theoretical 
and political struggles led to challenges to the structure of power, which 
had grown ever more ossified within the socialist camp. This too can be 
viewed as a politicization process.

Yet the Chinese Sixties also contained a self-contradictory ‘depoliticizing 
tendency’, with the anti-bureaucratization struggles becoming subsumed in 
faction fights—and, above all, in the violence that came to accompany them 
at the end of the Sixties. In his important essay, ‘How to Translate 
Cultural Revolution’, the Italian sociologist Alessandro Russo argues that 
these violent factional struggles created a crisis in the political culture 
that had developed in the early years of the Cultural Revolution, centred 
upon open debate and multiple forms of organization. [2] This crisis 
provided the opening for the re-entry of the party-state. In this sense, 
the final stages of the Cultural Revolution unfolded within a process of 


 From party-state to state-party?

The concept of the ‘party-state’ was, of course, a derogatory Cold War term 
applied by the West to the Communist countries. Today all the world’s 
nations have become party-states or—to extend the term—parties-states. 
Historically, the development of modern political systems from the 
preceding monarchical forms was a highly uneven process; by the mid-20th 
century, parties had still not been completely subsumed into the parameters 
of national politics in China. The creation of a new form of party-state 
system was a fundamental development of the post-war period.

As the party, through the process of exercising power, became the subject 
of the state order, it increasingly changed into a depoliticized apparatus, 
a bureaucratic machine, and no longer functioned as a stimulant for ideas 
and practice. For this reason, I would characterize the dominant 
contemporary form as having undergone a transformation from a party-state 
to a state-party or ‘state-multiparty’ system. This implies that the party 
no longer conforms to its past political role, but becomes a component of 
the state apparatus. What I want to emphasize here is the change in the 
party’s identity: no longer possessing its own distinctive evaluative 
standpoint or social goals, it can only have a structural-functionalist 
relationship to the state apparatus. If the state-party system is the 
result of a crisis transformation of the party-state, contemporary China is 
the embodiment of this trend. Yet the Chinese case should also be seen as a 
symptom of the worldwide dynamic toward depoliticization. Those analyses 
which, avoiding recognition of the generalized crisis in party politics, 
attempt to prescribe the best means of reforming the Chinese 
system—including setting Western-style multi-party representative democracy 
as the goal of Chinese political reform—are themselves only extensions of 
this depoliticization.

The Cultural Revolution was possibly the last stage of the political 
sequence wherein the party-state recognized that it faced a crisis and 
attempted to carry out a self-renewal. The political debates in the early 
stages of the gpcr included currents that hoped to smash the absolute 
authority of the party and the state, in order to further the goal of 
progress toward genuine popular sovereignty. The Cultural Revolution was a 
reaction against an early stage in the statification of the party; in order 
to change course, it was thought necessary to re-examine the party’s 
political values. Efforts at social remobilization and stimulating 
political life outside the party-state context were crucial characteristics 
of this early period. In these years, factories across China were 
reorganized along the lines of the Paris Commune, and schools and other 
units engaged in social experimentation. Due to the forceful re-assertion 
of the party-state system, most of these innovations were short-lived and 
the extra-state processes of political activism were quickly suppressed. 
Yet, traces of these early experiments remained in later state and party 
reorganizations—for example, the policy of admitting worker, peasant and 
army representatives into leadership positions, or the requirement that 
every level of state and party send their members to do social work in the 
rural villages or factories, etc. These practices, tainted with the 
character of the bureaucratized system and thus unable to unleash creative 
energies, became, at the end of the Seventies, prime targets of the 
government’s drive to ‘clean up the mess’ and ‘return to normal’.

Today, workers and peasants have wholly disappeared not only from the 
leadership bodies of party and state, but also from the National People’s 
Congress. Following the failure of the Cultural Revolution and the 
development of a market society, depoliticization has become the main 
current of the age. At its core has been the growing convergence of 
politics and the party-state, and the emergence of the state-party system.

Concepts of class

The consolidation of the state-party system in the Chinese context is 
directly connected to the concept of class. The representative character of 
the Communist parties had inevitably become increasingly problematic with 
the establishment of Communist-led states. Following the Sino-Soviet split 
in the late Fifties and early Sixties, Mao emphasized the concept of class 
to stimulate a renewal of the party’s political culture. His target was the 
Soviet notion of the ‘party of the whole people’, which not only indicated 
confusion about the representative character of the cpsu, but marked the 
depoliticization of the party-state system. While there is not room here to 
evaluate the classical Marxist theory of class, what needs to be emphasized 
is that, in Chinese political practice, class is not merely a structural 
category centred on the nature of property ownership or relation to the 
means of production; it is rather a political concept based on the 
revolutionary party’s appeal for mobilization and self-renewal. Similarly, 
within the party, the concept was used to stimulate debate and struggle, in 
order to avoid depoliticization under the conditions of the party’s 
administration of power. The concept denoted the attitudes of social or 
political forces toward revolutionary politics, rather than the structural 
situation of social class.

However, this highly subjective concept of class contained internal 
contradictions and dangers. Once crystallized into a structural, immutable 
notion—i.e., a depoliticized concept of class—its political dynamism 
vanished. As an essentialized discourse of class identity, it proved 
incapable of stimulating political transformation. Rather, it became the 
most oppressive kind of power logic, the basis for the merciless character 
of subsequent faction fights. The increasing predominance of discourses of 
identitarianism, ‘family origin’ or ‘blood lineage’ was a negation and 
betrayal of the subjectivist and activist outlook that was the core of the 
Chinese revolution, whose central task was the dismantling of class 
relations formed through a history of violence and unequal property relations.

The tragedy of the Cultural Revolution was not a product of its 
politicization—signifying by debate, theoretical investigation, autonomous 
social organization, as well as the spontaneity and vitality of political 
and discursive space. The tragedy was a result of 
depoliticization—polarized factional struggles that eliminated the 
possibility for autonomous social spheres, transforming political debate 
into a mere means of power struggle, and class into an essentialized 
identitarian concept. The only way to overcome the tragedy of this period 
is through understanding its dimensions of repoliticization. If we take 
1989 as the final end-point of the Sixties, the consolidation of 
depoliticization, this must imply that it could also have marked the 
beginning of the long road toward repoliticization.


China’s party-class exchange

China’s current depoliticization encompasses yet another kind of political 
exchange, characterized by the party elite’s effort to transform itself 
into the representative of special interests while still holding onto 
political power. In this instance it is transnational capital that must 
pass through a depoliticizing exchange process in order to gain the support 
of the power apparatus. Since marketization takes place under the aegis of 
the state, many aspects of the apparatus are imbricated in the economic 
sphere. (In a state-party system, this must include the party apparatus as 
well.) The ‘reform’ of property rights, which has led to large-scale 
expropriations, has been a conspicuous example of this depoliticizing 
exchange, which uses the law to depoliticize the property-right transfer. 
In the contemporary Chinese context, notions such as modernization, 
globalization and growth can be seen as key concepts of a depoliticized or 
anti-political political ideology, whose widespread usage militates against 
a popular political understanding of the social and economic shifts at 
stake in marketization. Against this background, the critique of corruption 
is also a critique of much deeper levels of inequality and injustice 
involved in the asset-transfer process.

Three factors underpin the current stage of China’s depoliticization:

    1. In the marketization process, the boundary between the political 
elite and the owners of capital grows gradually more indistinct. The 
political party is thus changing its class basis.

    2. Under conditions of globalization, some of the economic functions of 
the nation-state are ceded to supranational market organizations (wto), so 
that a globalized, depoliticized legal order is consolidated.

    3. As both market and state are gradually neutralized or depoliticized, 
divisions over questions of development become technical disputes about 
market-adjustment mechanisms. Political divisions between labour and 
capital, left and right, are made to disappear.

If these developments began at the end of the Seventies and flourished in 
the Eighties, they have achieved worldwide predominance in the era of 
neoliberal globalization.



The more open climate in China during the Seventies and Eighties permitted 
definitions of autonomy and liberalization that challenged the ideological 
state apparatuses. However, this ‘de-nationalization process’, as it was 
known within critical intellectual circles, did not result in 
repoliticization. Rather, occurring just as the sovereign authority of the 
nation-state was beginning to be challenged by new forces of capitalist 
globalization, the processes of autonomy and liberalization of the period 
were reincorporated into the dynamic of depoliticization and the 
consolidation of international ideological hegemony.

In fact, ‘de-nationalization’ denotes the outcome of fierce conflict 
between two different national political systems, two ideologies. The 
‘nation’ to be ‘de-nationalized’ is understood to refer only to the 
socialist nation. De-nationalization, therefore, is simply the process of 
identification with a different hegemonic form. In contemporary China, 
anti-socialist ideology uses the image of anti-statism to cover up its 
inner connection to this new national form. But the above analysis of the 
multiple dimensions of hegemony demonstrates that this new form of state 
ideology has a supra-national dimension as well, which often expresses 
itself as an attack on the state from the supra-national position.

This de-nationalization process was accompanied by an ideological 
depoliticization, incorporated into the new form of hegemony that 
privileged modernization, globalization and the market. 
‘De-nationalization’ presumes the erosion of any distinction between state 
power and the state apparatuses. Once this distinction has been 
obliterated, the space for political struggle is diminished, and political 
problems are turned into a ‘non-political’ process of de-nationalization or 
de-statification. Indeed many of today’s social movements (including most 
ngos) are themselves a part of the depoliticization process. They are 
either absorbed by the state apparatus, or constrained by the logic of 
national or international foundations. Not only are they unable to offer 
different understandings of development, democracy or popular 
participation; they actually function as cogs of the depoliticized global 
mechanisms. A pressing issue of our time is thus how to overcome the social 
movements’ self-imposed depoliticization, and how to link a critical 
internationalism to political struggles within the nation-state framework.

Today, any challenge to the fundamental logic of depoliticized politics 
will require us to identify the fissures within the three forms of 
hegemony; to dismantle the totalizing quality of these spheres and find 
within them new spaces for political struggle. Contemporary globalization 
and its institutions encourage the transnationalization of finance, 
production and consumption, but at the same time strive to limit 
immigration to the framework of state regulation, thus creating regional 
rivalries between workers. Our response should not be to retreat into 
nationalist mode, but rather to redevelop a critical internationalism in 
order to expose the inner contradictions of globalization. In China, 
because of the huge conflicts between the practice of reform and socialist 
values, there remain internal contradictions between the reform movement 
and the isas. As a result, the isas are mutating into repressive state 
apparatuses, relying on force or administrative authority to impose a 
system of control. In this respect, the Chinese isas operate according to a 
logic of de-ideologization and depoliticization, even though they make 
their appeal in the language of ideology.

Based primarily on the requirements of legitimization, the Chinese 
Communist Party, while thoroughly repudiating the Cultural Revolution, did 
not repudiate either the Chinese Revolution or socialist values, nor the 
summation of Mao Zedong thought. This has created a twofold effect. First, 
the socialist tradition has functioned to a certain extent as an internal 
restraint on state reforms. Every time the state-party system made a major 
policy shift, it had to be conducted in dialogue with this tradition. At 
minimum, it had to couch its announcement in a particular language designed 
to harmonize the policy transformation with its proclaimed social goals. 
Secondly, the socialist tradition gave workers, peasants and other social 
collectivities some legitimate means to contest or negotiate the state’s 
corrupt or inegalitarian marketization procedures.

Thus, within the historical process of the negation of the Cultural 
Revolution, a reactivation of China’s legacy also provides an opening for 
the development of a future politics. This opening is not a simple doorway 
back to the 20th century, but a starting point in the search for a means to 
break the hold of depoliticized political ideology after the end of the 
revolutionary era. In a situation where all earlier forms of political 
subjectivity—party, class, nation—face the crisis of depoliticization, the 
search for new forms must be accompanied by a redefinition of the 
boundaries of politics itself.

Translated by Chris Connery



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