This article is a slightly revised version of a presentation made by Rutgers historian and Political Affairs editorial board nember Norman Markowitz at the Annual Left Forum Conference on June 9th in New York. The presentation was part of a Panel "China, the Panda in the Left's Living Room," organized and chaired by U.S. China Friendship Association member and Political Affairs editorial Board member Gary Hicks.
Chair, Speakers: Gary Hicks -- Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library Oakland CA, Norman Markowitz -- Rutgers University, Wei Xiaoping -- Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Martin Rivlin -- independent scholar, Columbia University
China and the U.S. in the 21st Century: A Marxist historian's perspective
The serious study of History is always about understanding the past as it relates to the present and on that basis trying to grasp what are the likely developments in the near future
Marxist analysis of history is about understanding the larger political economic system, the social classes in conflict within that system, and the dialectical relationships, that is dynamic interactions between changing conditions and social movements. Ideologies serve as bridges between social movements and changing conditions. In that sense, Marxism enables us to understand in a holistic way the relationship of the general to the specific, to understand the relationship of dominant ideologies to economic political systems, and the relationship of cultures to changing political economy. Finally, Marxism connects theory with practice. It is a science of society, with social class partisanship, providing a holistic analysis that can become a force in itself to advance positive change, the interests of the working class and show the path to socialism. Let me try to brief and apply that analysis in broad outline to Chinese- U.S. relations today and in the near future.
First a look at global political economy and the capitalist world system
The capitalist world system has developed for centuries, but for the questions we are asking concerning U.S. China relations, its most important developments have taken place with the rise of industrial capitalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Industrial capitalism produced modern imperialism, the imperialism of export capital and with it the world or global market, leading to globalized militarization, global wars, global depressions. This modern imperialism has produced its dialectical antithesis, attempts at socialist revolutions and anti-imperialist national revolutions, including the Chinese peoples Revolution, of the 20th century. This Revolution, combining anti-imperialist national liberation with a commitment advanced by the Chinese Communist Party to construct a socialist society, is by far the most important, both in its time and today.
Let us look very briefly at the United States and how it got to where it is today. The United States had the first major anti-colonial revolution in modern history, a revolution that established an independent bourgeois republic. It became in the 19th century the first large capitalist republic in modern history, expanding across North America. After 1890 it surpassed Britain to become the leading industrial capitalist nation. After WW I, it replaced Britain as the leading finance capitalist nation. Today in the early 21st century its ruling class and the political economy that they control are in a very contradictory position.
The U.S. state was after WW II the founder and leader of the NAT0 bloc, against the Soviet Union and its allies and the world communist movement until the fall of the Soviet Union. This served as a 20th century industrial capitalist version of the old 19th century "Holy Alliance" which, with Britain in the background, fought against the expansion of the French Bourgeois revolution, against the revolutionary Jacobin state and the later Bonapartist empire. Britain used the forces that made up the Holy Alliance against the French Revolution and Napoleon, but the British state kept a distance from the Alliance's more reactionary expressions even as Britain advanced its initially hegemonic economic power to develop its global empire in the name of "civilization, "progress, and "free trade." Unlike the British, the U.S. state was always both the creator and leader of the NAT0 bloc and the advocate of its most aggressive and reactionary policies.
Also, the British economy emerged richer and more powerful from its "victory" in the wars of the French revolution. The U.S. economy, on the other hand, emerged from the U.S. NATO bloc's Cold War "victory" in a much weaker position in terms of industry and finance than it was immediately after WWII. Of course, this did not prevent U.S. leaders, George HW Bush and others, from foolishly proclaiming a "new world order" and genuflecting to the concept of "globalization." Although they would never admit it, in all likelihood even to themselves, the capitalist leaders of the U.S. fear that China will in the 21st century follow their path of the 19th and 20th.
After winning independence, U.S. leaders, in practice, moved away from the stated principles of their anti-colonial revolution, first under Jefferson's slogan of an "empire for liberty" then under the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. Then the commercial and later industrial/financial bourgeoisie led the U.S. to become an imperialist power fashioning a non-colonial imperialism, first in the Caribbean, Central America, and indirectly the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Then, under the banner of the Cold War, they undertook a global imperialism which "united ", and aimed to gain hegemony over all of the other imperialist powers.
And what will the 21st Century bring? Will we see a Chinese "empire for a socialist market economy" controlling the industrial heart of Asia and controlling Asian markets, with preferential access to the raw materials of Africa and other parts of the world, with Chinese domination of the IMF World Bank system? I don't see that as China's likely future, and I am no more for that than the U.S. capitalists, but for of course very different reasons.
Now a look at China
China has, over the last three decades, been remarkably successful in ways that the defenders of capitalist policy fear is beating them at their own game, whatever the long-term effects of playing that game may be.
It has been the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party that has pursued the old axiom that nations have interests, not permanent enemies. It is the leadership of the Chinese Communist party which has put one foot in the capitalist world, and kept one large foot out-buying shares in the public debt of the U.S. to give it leverage against possible anti-Chinese policies launched by the U.S. state, balancing the largest mixed economy in human history, while controlling (to use Lenin's term about industry of a nearly a century ago) "the commanding heights" of finance capital. China is no longer capital poor, as the Soviet Union was until its end in 1991. It is the second economy of the world, as was the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union lost capital massively in subsidizing allies, having to take foreign capital at high interest rates, and selling nothing except raw materials on world markets. China has developed a mixed economy system which has accumulated capital domestically and internationally, becoming a major exporter of finished goods, high value goods, in international trade.
The major capitalist states established in the Cold War era all of their economic, political and military institutions under U.S. leadership to encircle and destroy the Soviet Union and its bloc. The one thing that they never had to worry about was Soviet competition for world markets. What worried them was the Soviets' support of revolutionary movements that would take more and more of the world out of the capitalist world system
Now, to use a favorite ploy of American comedians, there is for U.S. NAT0 bloc capitalists both good and bad news. The good news is that they don't have to worry about China actively supporting revolutionary movements that would remove major parts of the world out of the world capitalist system. The bad news is that if they seek to encircle China through a neo Cold War policy, destroy the government of the Peoples Republic and the Chinese Communist party and transform China into an enterprise zone for foreign investment and exports, not only will they fail, but they will in all likelihood create an economic catastrophe for the world capitalist system.
China's relationship to world politics and the capitalist world system is radically different than was the case with the Soviet Union. This means that any neo Cold War strategy of "containing China" by forging military alliances with Japan, South Korea, and other states bordering China would be not only sinister but absurd. The only beneficiary in the short-run would be the military industrial complex of the U.S. which has been a parasitic force, especially since Reagan's election to the presidency. It has absorbed trillions of dollars in public funds for projects which detracted from the development of the civilian economy, detracted from scientific and technological development which would have enabled the U.S. to sustain the great advantages that it previously possessed in terms of production technology, investment capital and a skilled labor force. U.S. military spending during the cold war alone, 1947 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been estimated at 10 trillion dollars. This, along with the huge reduction in taxes on corporations and the wealthy and the post cold war "war against "terrorism" (and its spending of many trillions) has created the spectacular increase in the national debt which has made the U.S. if not capital poor, capital vulnerable.
What policies should a responsible American left see in U.S.-Chinese Relations?
First, it is important to grasp that China is vital to the maintenance of peace certainly in East Asia and the Pacific, to the development of a peace policy on the Korean Peninsula, to peace and development in Southeast Asia directly.
China also can play, and the responsible left should support, a role in the development of a peace process for South Asia generally. Here I think that the U.S. and China can work together fruitfully to both engage with India and disengage from Pakistan, with whom China has nothing really in common. (Pakistan is an anti-socialist, theocratic state ruled by a military junta which aids and abets reactionary Islamic terrorist groups, which have directly attacked the U.S. and potentially can be a threat to China, given its Islamic minorities).
It would be short-sighted in the extreme for China to see Pakistan as a geopolitical military pawn against India, since Pakistan's economic backwardness and militarist adventurism against India only undermines regional economic development and harms both India and China. Their mutual interest really is in expanding regional economic relationships. The U.S. policy of funding and arming Pakistan from the 1950s as an anti-Communist, anti-Soviet "containment state" and then allying with Pakistan to subvert and attack the Communist led Soviet supported government of Afghanistan in the 1980s led directly to the establishment of Al Qaeda, later to the Taliban government and all of the disasters of the recent past and present.
What else can the American Left, whose divisions sadly have undermined its development since the post WW II political persecutions, give in the form of constructive advice to China? First, I would advise the Chinese Communist Party activists to look seriously at what CPUSA leader Gus Hall called "bill of rights socialism," socialism with civil liberties, as a necessity for socialist development. Mao Tse-tung's concept of "from the people to the people" is in itself a Chinese expression as I see it of Bill of Rights Socialism, because trust in the masses of people and in their understanding and development, is necessary if the masses of people are to trust in you .
Just as the feudal Confucian philosophy had (as I remember from my studies of Chinese history at the University of Michigan over four decades ago) a concept of a righteous scholar representing both the Confucian path and the people against corruption, Chinese Communist cadres can perhaps develop the concept of the "righteous cadre" living with and for the people, not above them, teaching and learning from them. The cadre of the CPC could then lead to limit the accumulation of personal and family wealth, educate and organize the people to root out bribery and corruption, both domestic and that resulting of Foreign Direct Investment. It was, we should remember, this commitment to the people, to live with them and like them that enabled the Chinese Communist Party to defeat the Japanese and later U.S. imperialists, warlords, landlords, and the reactionary Kuomintang regime. It is something that should be remembered as China struggles to construct a socialist market economy.
I would also say to our Chinese comrades (broadly defined) that planning is the key component of all models of socialism. There are three components of planning in any system, including public sector institutions and corporations in capitalist systems. The first is strategic planning, that is policies to achieve long range goals like Deng's Four Modernizations at the end of the 1970s.
The second component is tactical planning, that is flexible responses to changing conditions in regard to the policies to achieve the goals of the plan.
The third component is human relations planning , that is, gaining the active participation, support, and trust of the masses of people. These are what one might call the three principles of effective planning.
Without the third component, effective human relations planning and policy, no planning process will ultimately be effective. I would say that adoption of and adaptation to national conditions of Bill of Rights socialism, socialism with civil liberties, is the most effective human relations policy for those seeking to develop socialism.
The development of socialism remains the stated goal of the Chinese Communist Party, which came into existence to liberate the Chinese people from domestic feudalism and foreign imperialism and to open the door to the construction of a socialist Society with Chinese characteristics.
Let me say also a word to those on the left who spend their time criticizing Chinese policy. Our struggle is here and our only real influence is and can be what we can do here to advance peoples movements in the direction of a socialist path and to unify ourselves so that we can fight monopoly capitalism and imperialism. Our primary task is not to attack countries which have had revolutions and whose stated aims are to establish socialist societies. By condemning China for its domestic and foreign policies, those on the left are "tailing"" (to use the old language of the Comintern) reactionaries and neo cold warriors.
If the left in the U.S. is to be taken seriously about anything, it might begin by looking at where the U.S political economy is today in comparison to China before blithely accusing the Chinese Communist Party and state of leading an exploitative capitalist system. Those who mock the CPC's stated commitment to develop a "socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics" should note that the political power structure of the United States, including the most progressive Democrats, would not dream of transforming the United States into "a socialist market economy with American characteristics".
Recently they, and here I include the Obama administration, have been so timid as to shy away from the policies associated with the American New Deal, that is, "social democratic" policies which the New Dealers drew in limited forms from the Communist and socialist movement: public works jobs for the unemployed, laws protecting trade unions, public old age pensions and unemployment benefits, large public developmental projects, even food stamps to assist the poor and food store proprietors. They have pursued instead such policies as "bailouts" to Wall Street and Banking and Industrial capital, with no concessions demanded from capital in terms of jobs, trade union rights, or serious tax reform. Such planning would, in terms of an anti-depression strategy and winning the support of the masses (similar to New Deal policies), in effect, have successfully borrowed, in a very limited form, socialist programs to both save and reform capitalism.
What the Chinese Communist party is doing or trying to do is to adopt, in a limited form, the capitalist policies of market, private investment and competition, to develop a socialist market economy and society. Whether they will succeed or not over time cannot of course be answered, but their attempts do not deserve to be prejudged.
The Obama administration, I would suggest, has a great deal to learn from the Chinese government's control of the banking system and its ability to channel capital investment into the Chinese economy through a planning process that makes "bailouts" reciprocal rather than a one way street.
We cannot look seriously at China and U.S. Chinese relations without looking at our political economy, power structure, and the policies which they have advanced.
Let me conclude with a few suggestions for the issues of those relations
First, the development of a clear co-existence policy that would defuse potential military conflicts in the Asia Pacific region and prevent arms races related to that region.
Second, working with China in and through the United Nations in campaigns against world hunger, environmental destruction in the poor countries, global environmental policies, instead of self-righteously denouncing Chinese pollution and ignoring the positive achievements of Chinese scientists in ecology. Third, the U.S. and China working together and with other nations through the United Nations social agencies to develop regional fair labor standards for a global economy.
Finally, I would strongly suggest as a necessary concomitant to such policies the dissolution of the NAT0 bloc.
Note: the following four paragraphs were omitted because of time constraints.
The U.S. through NATO continues to waste hundreds of billions of dollars in its adventures through the world and in maintaining military force against nonexistent enemies in Europe. These policies would permit the U.S. to reduce its military spending by more than half, which would still be first in the world and signicantly greater than China and also encourage China to reduce its non productive military spending
Some think that China will become a leader of a "Second World" including the BRIC nations, Brazil, Russia, India, China; that however is extremely unlikely and I would say not something to be wished for either.
A broad policy of Sino U.S. cooperation internationally and a changed U.S. Chinese economic relationship, one that encourages increased Chinese purchasing power, joint ventures, and bilateral trade agreements from which both China and the U.S. and the Chinese and American people would benefit, offers a much better and more realistic policy for Sino-U.S. relations. The Obama administration in its second term still is in a position to advance such policies, as the other major nations of the U.S. NAT0 bloc are not.
The U.S. is currently struggling to recover from a debilitating more than three decades old physical and mental illness-regressive, even infantile "neo liberal" capitalism or as I like to call it Friedmanitis. China, whatever it's relatively recent feudal past and the devastating effects of imperialist intervention for its people, does not have that illness to worry about. U.S. Chinese cooperation of the kind that I have suggested, through the United Nations and other global venues, can also help eradicate that illness, which still acts to undermine the economic and thus social and political health of people throughout the world.
Some postscript comments from other panelists and the chair
The discussion which followed the presentations was rich and interesting. Professor Wei in her presentation dealt seriously and insightfully with the problem of economic inequality in China today, the dangers of over production and inadequate consumption, given the adaption of market economy from capitalism. She also made the point that there are no models of socialism in the world today and that China, after initially adopting the Soviet model of central planning and no private business or market relations, has through trial and error and given the global necessity, moved toward the present socialist market economy. Martin Rivlin dealt with very contemporary developments in both China and U.S. Chinese relations, was critical of Deng Shao p'ing's tactical implementation of his four modernizations, but was extremely critical of U.S. finger pointing at China in terms of both its economic policy and its "human rights policy."
In response to criticisms of China's lack of "human rights", "labor's rights", and "democracy" all of the panelists saw this as hypocritical in the extreme. Chair Gary Hicks stated rightly that four years ago the Chinese Communist party and government demanded that Wal-Mart in China unionize and Wal-Mart did. Today, Wal-Mart in the U.S. is both the leading employer of non-union labor, and notorious for its violation of overtime pay and other U.S. labor laws. On the U.S. political system, Professor Wei mentioned that China does have a one party system and the U.S. a two party system , but the U.S. two party systems is controlled by the rich. Professor Wei contended that Chinese unions worked well for workers in the public sector but not well in the private sector where heads of firms bribed union representatives with stock issues. She was also very frank about the problem of corruption in China. I gave examples of corruption here and stated that the Chinese Communist Party had the power to effectively fight corruption. Gary Hicks, in response to my comments concerning an adaption of Gus Hall's concept of "Bill of Rights Socialism" argued that China had already implemented in principle the first ten amendments to the constitution.
Note. The following paragraphs also were not presented because I was running out of time.
When we look at rising Chinese inequality over the last decades, which no one should of course support, we should remember it has developed in a context in which more people have been raised out of destitution and poverty in China then in any society in human history over the last three decades.
The leadership of the Chinese Communist party deserves credit for having deterred the "jungle capitalism" of 19th century Britain and the U.S, much less the brutal semi-colonial comprador capitalism that was China's developing fate under Chiang Kai' shek before the barbaric Japanese invasion (and Chiang was trying to return to after the defeat of the Japanese imperialists)
Higher levels of inequality in the U.S. during that time frame and in the nations of the NAT0 bloc have raised levels of real poverty everywhere and have been connected to economic stagnation, not real growth in the Keynesian sense of that, to the massive export of capital, and the creation of huge state, and in the U.S., crippling consumer debt, the latter providing super profits for finance capital and undermining what the Chinese leader Sun Yat -sen called the third principle of the people, the peoples livelihood.
Today, a Marxist analysis of history can tell us is that there is no first world, second world, third world anymore. The continuation of U.S. NAT0 bloc's anti-Soviet policies directed against China, that is, spreading fears of Chinese "expansion" in Asia and calls to "contain" China in military and political terms is senseless in the extreme. It is an example of the old definition of reactionary, that is, learning nothing from real conditions and forgetting nothing in terms of policy and advancing the same policies over and over again.
The authoritarian Asian regimes that reactionaries hailed as Asian Tigers have been shown to be paper tigers in regard to political economy. They have nothing offer the U.S. as part of an anti-Chinese alliance if that were possible. Japan remains a major capitalist competitor of the U.S.(and there are dangerous tendencies in Japan, from what I have read, forces seeking to abrogate the U.S. imposed postwar constitution which greatly limited Japan's military capacity, actions that are not in China's or the U.S. interests)
The 21st century, given the distribution of world population and the dramatic, albeit different, developments in India and China, will in all likelihood be first and foremost an Asian Century. What kind of Asian century it will be will depend significantly on developing U.S. Chinese relations.
Photo: Chinese construction workers 2002 Creative Commons 3.0