The deepening of socialism with Chinese characteristics
Since the declaration of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the Chinese socialist project has evolved through three stages. (1) The period of “socialist revolution and reconstruction” from 1949 to 1978, characterized by the consolidation of state power and the socialist transformation of agriculture and industry (see “Mao: The foundation of China today,” June 14, 2022). (2) The period of “reform, opening, and socialist modernization” from 1978 to 2012, when agricultural and industrial enterprises, state-owned and private, were permitted to sell products to domestic and foreign markets, under state direction in accordance with a long-term development plan. The reform and opening had enormous success in unleashing economic productivity. See “China models a new type of socialism,” June 10, 2022. (3) The third stage, led by Xi Jinping, was launched at the 2012 National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It has focused on inequality, poverty, ecological concerns, and corruption, all of which had intensified during the second stage. In addition, it ought to be appreciated that people’s democracy, which includes a system of direct and indirect elections and multiparty cooperation led by the Communist Party of China, was created in the first stage, and improvements in the system have been made during the second and third stages (see “Political Structures in Socialist China: A people’s alternative to Western representative democracy,” October 8, 2021; and “China: Democracy That Works,” December 21, 2021).
My commentary today focuses on the third stage of the Chinese socialist project, from 2012 to the present. It addresses three dimensions. First, the deepening of structures of people’s democracy. Secondly, the struggle against rural-urban inequality and absolute poverty. And thirdly, China’s emergence as a world leader in international affairs, promoting in theory and practice a more just and sustainable world-system based on cooperation and mutually beneficial trade among nations.
Deepening of structures of people’s democracy
China developed in the 1950s a political structure in which the National People’s Congress is the highest authority in the nation, with the capacity to enact and amend laws and to elect the highest members of the executive branch. The deputies of the National People’s Congress are elected in a tiered structure of people’s congresses, with a foundation in the local village or urban neighborhood. At the lowest level, local People’s Congresses are directly elected by the people, with numerous candidates for each seat nominated by the Communist Party as well as by other political parties, by mass organizations, or by any ten voters. Although the Communist Party enjoys by far the highest level of electoral support, one-third of the seats of the National People’s Congress are reserved by convention for non-party members, to ensure a greater diversity of views.
New legislative proposals are continually modified through a process of consultation seeking consensus, which includes not only legislators but also agencies of the executive branch and relevant organizations of civil society. When near unanimity in the final vote occurs, it is because of the prior process of consultation and modification. Such consultation seeking consensus is very different from the conflictive process of competing parties with opposed agendas in the USA, in which narrow majorities frequently are attained through compromise rather than consensus.
The Communist Party of China is a vanguard political party dedicated to the political education of its members, who constitute approximately 6% of the population of China. The political power of the Party is contingent on its capacity to maintain the support of the people, expressed in the elections to the people’s assemblies. See “Political Structures in Socialist China: A people’s alternative to Western representative democracy,” October 8, 2021.
China: Democracy That Works, a white paper released by Council of State of the People’s Republic of China on December 4, 2021, refers to improvements that have been made during the second and third stages of the Chinese socialist project. They include, in the second stage, improvement in the process of political consultation and multiparty cooperation led by the Communist Party. And they include, in the third stage, the declaration of “whole process people’s democracy,” in which the various essential components of people’s democracy are identified and attended. Thus, we can see and ought to appreciate that seven decades ago, the Chinese socialist revolution constructed a structure of people’s democracy, an alternative to Western representative democracy, designed to ensure that power is in the hands of the people; a structure that prevents distortions of the political process by the upper classes or those representing the interests of foreign powers. The process has survived ideological conflicts within the Party as well as shifts in economic policies; and today in the era of Xi Jinping, there is a commitment to its deepening.
The struggle against inequality and poverty
The second stage of reform and opening included contracts between the state and peasant households, which resulted in the dismantling of the cooperatives that peasants had formed during the first stage, causing a decline in basic health care services that were integral to the cooperative system. In addition, the reform included measures designed to promote the expansion and strengthening of state and private industrial enterprises, which resulted in an increase in rural-urban inequality, stimulating a massive migration to the cities. In response to these dynamics, there has been since 2004 a priority on rural needs. Institutions have been developed to promote sustained investment in rural infrastructure. Reforms have been implemented with respect to taxes, pensions, and wages. And there has been a comprehensive anti-poverty program, which lifted 850 million people out of poverty and has resulted in the elimination of absolute poverty. In China today, all are assured food, clothing, guaranteed medical services, and housing.
Tings Chak, an activist and artist based in Sao Paulo and Shanghai, made a presentation on China’s anti-poverty project at a September 18, 2021, forum on China and the Left, sponsored by the Qiao Collective. She stressed that the struggle against poverty has been central to the Chinese socialist project since 1949, when China was the eleventh poorest country of the world, and illiteracy among women was 90%. So the recent anti-poverty program should be understood in the context of the historic efforts of Chinese socialism to overcome poverty.
Many assume that economic development reduces poverty, but Tings Chak reported that a comprehensive study of the causes of poverty conducted in China concluded that economic development alone does not overcome poverty. Based on the study, China undertook from 2013 to 2020 a multidimensional anti-poverty project. The Party sent three million cadres to the countryside to live for three or four years, during which time they organized village appraisal meetings, where the people discussed their reality in concrete terms, identifying poor persons and their needs. During the period, the poverty population was targeted for high state investment, including the construction of rural roads, the renovation of homes, and the expansion of internet access.
Tings Chak described the Chinese anti-poverty program as a project in grassroots democracy involving party cadres, peasants, and women, in which peasants played a protagonistic role. The elimination of poverty was not seen as an end in itself, but as a stage in the struggle for socialism. She noted that the international Left could learn much from China’s program to overcome absolute poverty.
China and the worldwide struggle for a more just world
In the era of Xi Jinping, China pursues a foreign policy based on the principles of cooperation among nations and the sovereignty of nations. Chinese foreign policy affirms, in theory and in practice, that all nations of the world ought to be free to control their economies, their political systems, and their foreign policies; and they ought to be free to trade among themselves, without interferences and interventions by global powers that seek control of natural resources and markets.
At the Second Summit of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), held in Havana, Cuba in January 2014, the member states approved the creation of the China-CELAC Forum. On July 17, 2014, following the Sixth Summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, the heads of state of China and the countries of Latin American and the Caribbean formally established the China-CELAC Forum.
Xi Jinping traveled to Brazil for the BRICS Summit and for the meeting establishing the China-CELAC Forum, in which were in attendance the heads of state of the nations of CELAC, including Raúl Castro of Cuba, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador. And Xi subsequently visited Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba.
Prior to his trip to Latin America, the Chinese President responded to questions by journalists from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba. He described China as a large nation, not a global power, and in a phase of development similar to Latin America and the Caribbean nations. He maintained that China is seeking to develop through trade based on cooperation and win-win relations of mutual benefit. He advocated the promotion of South-South cooperation in order that nations in development can attain autonomous and sustainable development, and he viewed the expanding economic and social relation between China and CELAC to be an example of South-South cooperation. He affirmed that China is committed to a more just and reasonable international economic and political order. An English translation of the interview can be found at: Xi Jinping, “Long distance does not weaken close friendship”.
On July 25, 2014, an article on the China-CELAC Forum by Cuban journalists Yaima Puig Meneses and Leticia Martínez Hernández appeared in Granma , the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and the principal daily newspaper in Cuba. Puig and Martínez described the formal establishment of the China-CELAC Forum as “an historic milestone for the nations that compose it. Our region, historically plundered and beaten by foreign powers, now receives respectful treatment and gratitude from the Asian giant.”
Puig and Martínez summarize the major points of the Joint Declaration emitted by China and CELAC on July 17. The document emphasizes the need to strengthen capacity for the flow of goods and information among the participating nations, and to this end to develop the infrastructure of transportation and communication, including railroads, roads, ports, airports, and telecommunications, and it affirms that the participating nations seek to establish an association based on equality, mutual benefit, reciprocal cooperation, and common development. Here it should be noted that in the core-peripheral relation, the core powers financed the construction of an infrastructure designed to facilitate the flow of raw materials from the periphery to the core and of manufactured goods from the core to the periphery. But what is envisioned in the Declaration is the development of an infrastructure to facilitate commerce among the nations of the South, the lack of which was a significant obstacle to putting into practice the historic Third World vision of non-alignment.
The Cuban journalists describe the project that China proposes as a program for the integral development of cooperation, driven by three engines: commerce, investment, and financial cooperation. The commercial accords should be designed to increase the economic growth of both parties. Investment should be reciprocal, and oriented toward the productive sectors and the diversification of production. This will require financial cooperation between the central banks, which will liquidate the commercial exchanges in national currencies. With respect to Latin America, the priorities of cooperation fall into six areas: energy and natural resources, infrastructure construction, agriculture, manufacturing, technical innovations, and computer technology. As an initial concrete step, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the establishment of a Special Credit for Chinese and Latin American and Caribbean infrastructure, designed to provide lines of credit under preferential conditions to Latin American and Caribbean nations.
The China-CELAC Forum envisions not only commercial relations of mutual benefit but also the establishment of space for dialogue between CELAC and China with respect to global political issues of common interest, such as the democratic reform of the United Nations. As the Chinese President expressed in his address to the China-CELAC meeting,
China is disposed to strengthen communication and coordination with CELAC concerning important global issues, such as the structures of world government, sustainable development, the response to climate change, and cybernetic security, in international forums and multilateral mechanisms, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the G-20, and the G-77, in order to defend the common interests of the numerous countries on the road to development.
Puig and Martínez conclude that
a road more ours is taking shape, where our interests also are important and are taken into account; a road that announces a clear sign concerning the strengthening of unity and collaboration and the promotion of South-South cooperation between China and Latin America and the Caribbean. Respect for diversity and for principles, support, complementarity, and dialogue. This and more has been left in our region by the encounters between the leaders of China and Latin America and the Caribbean, becoming a milestone for the history of our peoples, not only for the importance for both parties of the establishment of the China-CELAC Forum, but also for the respect and simplicity with which the Asiatic giant has approached Our America.
Since its establishment in 2014, the China-CELAC Forum has incorporated nineteen countries in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. In the sixth meeting of the Forum in 2019 in Beijing, Senator Frederick Audley of the Bahamas praised China for its aid in constructing infrastructure in different countries in the continent and its execution of plans to promote development, especially with respect to the small island states.
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign policy in the era of Xi Jinping has been developing cooperation with respect to Africa. As I observed in previous commentaries, African activists and intellectuals, at the forum on China and the Left sponsored by the Qiao Collective on September 18, 2021, and at an International Peace Forum sponsored by the New Cold War on September 25, 2021, maintained that the increased trade between China and Africa is unfolding in the context of China’s policy of respect for the sovereignty of African nations and of non-interference in African political affairs. They maintained that China’s anti-imperialist policy of mutually beneficial trade is accompanied by a renewal of Pan-Africanism on the continent. See “China and the Left: A socialist forum,” September 24, 2021; and “No Cold War against China!!! A critical review of the September 25 Peace Forum,” September 28, 2021.
On September 21, 2021, Xi Jinping spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations. He proposed a global development initiative with six dimensions, including debt suspension and innovative programs of development aid for the developing countries, utilizing the most recent technological advances to boost productivity. See “Xi Jinping proposes Global Development Initiative,” October 19, 2021. He declared:
we must strengthen solidarity and promote mutual respect and win-win cooperation in conducting international relations. A world of peace and development should embrace civilizations of various forms, and must accommodate diverse paths to modernization. . . . We need to pursue dialogue and inclusiveness over confrontation and exclusion. We need to build a new type of international relations based on mutual respect, equality, justice and win-win cooperation.
On April 21, 2022, Xi Jinping delivered the keynote address (via video) at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022. He proposed a Global Security Initiative that would “pay due attention to the pressing needs of the developing countries,” based on the concept “that humanity is a community with a shared future where all people rise and fall together, and that all countries need to follow the trend of the times featuring peace, development and win-win cooperation.” He called for an approach that respects “the independent choices of development paths and social systems made by people in different countries,” in accordance with “the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.” See “China’s Xi Jinping has a better plan,” April 26, 2022.
In the post-World War II era, the global imperialist powers, with diabolical cleverness, forged a neocolonial world-system, characterized by the apparent but not real independence of the formerly colonized, leaving intact a system that served the economic interests of the former colonizers and that promoted the underdevelopment of the formerly colonized peoples. However, the neocolonial world-system turned out to be unsustainable, by virtue of the persistent quest for sovereignty by the neocolonized peoples, and as a consequence of the fact that the world-economy had overextended and overreached the territorial and ecological limits of the earth.
When, in the 1970s, the global powers saw, without understanding their causes, the signs of the unsustainability of the world-system, they turned to economic sanctions and military aggressions, and increasingly invented sophisticated strategies for the ideological manipulation of the peoples. But there emerged dignified voices among the colonized, persistently calling for a more just and sustainable world order, and seeking to construct it, with unavoidable limitations, in their own national terrains.
Into this scenario enters the Asian giant, with its enormous achievements in economic planning and productivity. It offers to help its sister nations in development. It calls the former colonial powers to the new road of cooperation
For intellectuals of the Left in the imperialist countries, it is not enough to criticize imperialism. We must educate our peoples with respect to the sustained and principled efforts by the colonized peoples to develop a more just and sustainable world-system, so that all will know that “a better world is possible.”
A free subscription option is available, with capacity to read, send, and share all posts. A paid subscription ($5 per month or $40 per year) enables you to make comments and to support the costs of the column; paid subscribers also receive a free PDF copy of my book on Cuba and the world-system.
Follow me on Twitter: Charles McKelvey@CharlesMcKelv14