[Marxism] Class nature of the Chinese state

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Oct 23 19:50:37 MDT 2007


Well, Paula managed to slide past all the substantive points in my article,
"Re: Is China Imperialist?" with what appears to be grace and skill.  But it
occurs to me that she may not have been able to grasp some of the points,
such as Lenin's differences with Paula on the criteria for imperialist
nations, just as she has not responded to the fine quotation from Lenin on
the division between oppressed and oppressor nation used in one of Joaquin's
contributions.

But I think that the fault may be mine.  The article was riddled with typos
and other problems.

So I have edited it, clarified some points, and reformatted it to make it
readable, and placed the text after this short comment. I hope that will
create a readable package that will advance the discussion. 

Opposed to old and "new" imperialists
Paula misreads me when she interprets me as arguing that she defends the old
against the "new" imperialists.  I know that she supports no side in any war
between Iran and the United States or China and the United States.

If wave after wave of US bombers and cruise missiles strike Iran, Paula will
stand firm against both sides.  

Paula repeatedly insists that simply reading Lenin will reveal the obvious
correctness of her position.  Lenin's "Imperialism" is a work I have read
many times, just about every year actually.  I plan to do so again.  But I
honestly believe that if I read Lenin nonstop until my eyeballs fall to the
floor, I will still never be convinced of her political position on the
defense of these oppressed nations.

Era of imperialism?
"We are living in the era of imperialism. What else can the astounding 
development of Chinese capitalism lead to, but Chinese imperialism?"

"We are living in the era of imperialism" is a false statement because it is
so grossly incomplete. Paula's mistake shows the importance of the point
that Joaquin has been trying to get across. 

We are living in the era of imperialism and the struggles of the oppressed
and exploited for national liberation, breaking all chains of oppression,
and ultimately socialism.  This struggle is clearly centered today in the
oppressed nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin Anerica.

What else can happen? Well, something else.
Imperialism does not arise from "astrounding development" but from the
development of a crisis, and Lenin NEVER identifies it with economic growth,
or massive production of manufactured goods. Imperialism is actually a
historic response to a crisis in the system. The longest economic crisis in
world capitalism, from roughly the early 1870s to the early 90s.
Imperialism arose in part out of the need to stabilize the system and get it
moving forward again.

Given the breakdown and decline of imperialism today, including the US
powerhouse of the system, there is absolutely no guarantee that China or any
other capitalist  semicolony or former semicolony will become imperialist.
The obstacles to this development are growing, not declining.  We should
avoid mechanical stage-ism.

What else can China's development lead to? Paula insists.  This is an
expression of frustration at our inability to know, control, or dictate the
future.  The answer to the question, "What else?" is, of course, "I don't
know."  But it is my opinion that Chinese -- and Iranian  -- development are
not headed toward becoming imperialist powers at the present time.

But allow me to note that until now Paula has been talking about imperialism
in China in the present tense.  Now she seems to foresee it as a future
development that must take place because of China's "astounding
development."

Taiwan
In an earlier comment, Paula states that a revolutionary response to the
conflict between China and the government of Taiwan must center on Taiwan's
right to self-determination.

This is confusing to me.  Paula seems to insist that in the event of war
between China and the US, China's right to self-determination cannot be
allowed to modify our even-handed condemnation of both sides. In the event
of a US attack on Iran, the issue of self-determination of "imperialist"
Iran must be set aside, and both sides must be opposed.

But in the event of a military clash between China and Taiwan, Paula seems
ready to side with Taiwan.

Yet by the standards she uses, Taiwan is clearly as much an imperialist
country as China.  It is an industrial workshop. There are monopolies and
cartels of various types.  And Taiwan exports capital --  particularly to
China.

Remember that differentials in size, military strength, and so on have no
weight in determining our position on inter-imperialist conflicts.  We
cannot be guided by soft-hearted pity for "poor little Taiwan."

So I am interested in how she explains her position on this.

Anyway bere is the edited and revised version of my earlier article.  I hope
this furthers the discussion.

By the way, I refer to Paula in the new version simply as P. That is because
I am sending this to people unconnected to the list and think it would be
wrong to use her name.

****

2. Is China imperialist? Fred Feldman

I have been troubled for quite a while by what seems to me to be the
theoretical primitiveness of the discussions on our list of whether such and
such a "formerly" semicolonial country -- China, Brazil, India, Pakistan,
Venezuela, South Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Saudi
Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Ireland, Turkey, Thailand,
United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Uganda -- has become imperialist.

It sometimes seems to me that whenever a semicolony or former semicolony
pops it nose about one-quarter of an inch out of the mire of poverty to
which imperialist underdevelopment condemns it, some Western leftists slap
the imperialist label on the visible portion.

DOES CAPITALIST DEVELOPMENT EQUAL IMPERIALISM?
Among semicolonial countries that are experiencing economic development,
including capitalist development, Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea tend not to
make the list of imperialist powers. This is a good thing politically, in
my view, but I am not sure it is logically consistent from the theoretical
standpoint being applied -- to the extent there is one.

The standard seems to be that once a capitalist "former" semicolony reaches
a certain level of development, it more or less automatically becomes an
imperialist power, contending for regional and ultimately world domination
against the others. Wars between these "former" semicolonial countries and
the old imperialist powers are inter-imperialist wars.

As I understand it, Comrade P reasons that the advance of these new
imperialist powers poses the main danger of imperialist war today, as they
rise to challenge the old imperialist powers. Hence the conflict between US
and Iran becomes a conflict between two mighty imperialist states, one
rising (Iran) and one in decline (the United States), fighting for
"hegemony" in the Middle East. The situation she portrays is rather like
the 1930s when the previously dominant democratic "imperialists" challenged
by Hitler Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and militarist Japan in the 1930s.

I also think the main danger of war lies in the present or former
semicolonial regions, though I think the driving force is not the new
"imperialist" powers, which I don't see as existing. The challenge stems
from the decline and frustration of the real imperialist powers -- yes, the
usual suspects -- and above all the US. The US rulers are more and more
forced to rely on military power as their main instrument and are outraged
when semicolonies gain the muscle to challenge their monopolistic power.

I guess its possible that here and there a war might be avoided if Iran or
Venezuela or China or others simply came out with their hands up and went
along with the program. But I don't charge them with imperialism for not
doing so. And I don't think that retreat, though sometimes wise or
necessary, is the way to prevent imperialist war.

PACIFISM NOT THE ANSWER TO WAR
I don't think fear and hatred of war are a sufficient justification for
refusing to take a clear stand on the side of the oppressed nation against
the oppressor, and even more they do not justify proclaiming the oppressed
nation as imperialist because it acts in ways that involve a risk of war
with the masters of tohe world, whose grip they sense is weakening.

I've always appreciated pacifists' hatred of war, but I have never thought
that pacifism was a solution to this terrible reality.

P urges us to read Lenin's fine pamphlet on imperialism. But neither she nor
others who see imperialism in one or more of these countries has seriously
attempted to show how they fit into Lenin's total picture of imperialism.
Passing phrases about "export of capital" or "monopolies," plus criteria not
to be found there such as "hegemony" and production of manufactured goods
are substituted for this. 

P in particular proceeds (at least on this list) as if the burden of proof
lies exclusively on those who think these countries are still semicolonial,
even though it is she (among others) who posits that a vast and qualitative
change has taken place in their political, economic and social structures,
transforming them from oppressed nations into imperialist powers contending
with the big boys with world domination as the ultimate prize.

NOT HIGHEST, AND NOT NECESSARILY LAST
The common misuse of Lenin's Imperialism, or really the failure to really
use it at all, and determine where one agrees or disagrees, often starts
with accepting the common mistranslations of Lenin's subtitle as the
"Highest stage of capitalism" or the "last stage of capitalism." He
actually used the more modest subtitle "latest stage of capitalism." 

Not necessarily last (since that depends on the class struggle and other
unpredictable developments) and, as anyone who reads the pamphlet
attentively should notice, definitely not HIGHEST: decaying, rotting,
parasitic capitalism. Capitalism in decline.

Lenin does not take the position that imperialism is an advance over the
previous stage, but tends to foresee something like a long period of
parasitism-driven war, crisis, and tyranny driven by the parasitic
requirements. Thus the assumption that any capitalist country or any country
in which capitalism seems to be advancing economically or becoming stronger
relative to the imperialists politically must be imperialist or becoming so
has no necessary basis in Lenin's theory. Iran or China or Venezuela or
Malaysia cannot be defined as imperialist simply because they have risen in
strength or because they have national or regional interests that they can
defend against imperialist powers somewhat more effectively than used to be
the case.

And nowhere, of course, does Lenin equate imperialism with "hegemony."
That's another bit of Maoist jive that has to go, in my opinion.

LENIN'S DEFINITION
I think it is worthwhile to review Lenin's criteria for imperialism, from
page 89 of the oft-reprinted 1939 International Publishers edition: 

"And so, without forgetting the conditional and relative value of all
definitions, which can never include all the concatenations of the
phenomenon in its complete development, we must give a definition of
imperialism that will embrace the following five essential features:

"1) The concentration of production and capital developed to such a high
stage that it created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life

"2) The merging of bank capital with industrial capitasl and the creation,
on the basis of "finance capital." Of a "financial oligarchy.

"3. The export of capital which has become extremely important, AS
DISTINGUISHED FROM THE EXPORT OF COMMODITIES [emphasis mine].

"4.The formation of international capitalist monopolies which share the
world among themselves.

"5.The territorial division of the whole world among the greatest capitalist
powers has been completed.

"Imperialism is capitalism in that stage of development in which the
dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself; in which
the division of the whole world among the international trusts has begun; in
which the division of ail territories of the globe among the great powers
is completed."

As I said, I have seen no serious attempt to analyze any of these countries
within this overall framework. This and that example of "export" of capital
or assertions like if they produce lots of manufactured goods, they have to
be imperialist.

DOES LARGE-SCALE MANUFACTURING EQUAL IMPERIALISM
You will not find in Lenin or Marx P's suggestion that Britain became
imperialist when it became the "world's workshop." Lenin believed the
emergence of imperialism in Britain, as in other countries, took place quite
late in the nineteenth century, not in the decades of the industrial
revolution when the "world's workshop" label was taken by Britain.

P also exaggerates China's weight in the world economy, portraying China's
emergence as the top producer of manufactured goods in the last few years as
though it signified that Chinese "monopoly capital" has already achieved
economic world domination. China's edge in the production of manufactured
goods is nothing like Britain's supremacy during most of the 19th century
(although in neither case should it be considered a criterion of
imperialism). 

Recall that when Britain industrialized, France, Germany, Italy, Spain,
Portugal, Russia and the United States were basically still agricultural
rather than industrial countries.

The emergence of British imperialism coincided with tightening competition
for Britain in the world market, not with its period of greatest supremacy.

Today there are many workshops in the world, with the Third World providing
a growing number of them. I would suggest that China's percentage of world
manufacturing is much lower tban Britain's was at the height of its dominion
over the world market. To present China's economic position as one of
virtual world domination, as P. seems to be doing, is a gross exaggeration
of the meaning of a very important development in the world.

TENDENCY OF IMPERIALIST DIVISION OF WORLD TO BREAK DOWN
But I want to take up two points of Lenin's description of the imperialist
world situation (points 4 and 5 in his numbered list), referring to the
concrete historical context, which are radically different today. It seems
clear to me that the territorial division of the world between the great
powers and the division of the world among a handful of international trusts
are in a process of breakdown. The territorial division seems to have
broken down massively, although the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan,
Kosovo, a number of African countries, and the massive US sponsorship of the
Israeli settler-colonial state are still significant factors in the world
situation.

And I think the long-term imperialist trustification of the world shows a
long term trend toward breaking down.

If a country like Iran or Iraq or Venezuela or even Saudi Arabia
nationalizes the oil industry, I think someone with Paula's framework would
tend to think: "Aha! They have created a monopoly! They are becoming
imperialist," referring to a fragment of Lenin's definition in the usual
fashion among thinkers of this bent (and Paula is not alone, including on
the list).

But what these countries did above all was not primarily create yet another
imperialist or incipiently imperialist monopoly. In the real world of
struggle, what they have done is partially bust a trust!

In the late 80s and 90s the imperialists hoped they would reverse this trend
through neoliberalism. But the trend is again running in the opposite
direction.

A good case could be made that China today many elements of state
capitalism, although I do not think this determines the overall character of
the state or the social relationship or marks the end of the Chinese
national and people's revolution. But historically this 
"state capitalism" exists today because the wealth of the nation was was
ripped from the hands of the imperialist powers and international trusts. 

The assertion that the world, having been a battleground between a handful
of imperialist powers, is now a battleground between many more of them -- be
the increase by ones or twos, dozens, or scores (anyplace that has
monopolies or exports a lot of goods, or where you can cite examples of
capital export, or which has terrirorial or economic aspirations in its
region, etc., etc., etc.) -- is an assertion that will need a lot more proof
than anyone has tried to provide so far. 

I see a situation of imperialist decline, which is presently unfavorable to
the development of new imperialist powers, even if capitalism is not
abolished worldwide in the near future. 

GAINS FOR LIBERATION STRUGGLES BAD FOR IMPERIALIST PROSPECTS
Will another stage of capitalism development take place if imperialism
continues to break down, and "former" or actually former semicolonies gain
strength? In any case I think the perspective that the trend is toward ever
more imperialist powers contending for an ever more unattainable domination
doesn't seem realistic.

In any case, I still believe that there will be considerably more progress
toward national liberation and socialism than toward ever more multipolar
imperialism (almost a contradiction in terms, in fact) in the coming
decades. In addition, I think the revolutionary advances taking place in
Latin America and the resistance which US imperialism has met in Iraq
represents bad growing weather for new imperialisms as well as for the old
ones.

This is part of why I remain more optimistic about the future of China than
is the current norm on the list. I don't think the fact that China's
economic structure seems to be substantially state capitalist proves, as
many seem to assume, that its future is automatically or inevitably
imperialist. In fact, I see little sign of genuine imperialist development
at this point. And I don't see an imperialist transformation as inevitable
even if China retains a largely state capitalist structure for the
foreseeable future.
Fred Feldman








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