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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > December 22, 2007 - Annual Number 2007 > On Socialism and its Version as Practised in China Today

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

On Socialism and its Version as Practised in China Today

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by Priyadarshi Mukherji

[(BOOK REVIEW)]

Paradoxes of Chinese Socialism by Ravindra Sharma; Manak Publications Private Limited, Delhi; 2007; pages: 515+xxvi; price: Rs 900.

After the publication of his first book, China from Marxism to Modernisation: Post-Revolution Documentary History of the CPC (1956-2002), Dr Ravindra Sharma has once again come out with a book titled Paradoxes of Chinese Socialism—a topic dearest to his heart. Himself an ardent admirer of Mao Zedong and his radical thoughts, Ravindra Sharma adopts a critical view of post-Mao reforms in China from his ideologically orthodox position while dealing with the waves of changes that swept across China since 1979. He writes:

Deng and his associates fell into the trap of “China’s Americanisation”. Deng’s remedies created “classes” in socialist China. Surprisingly, Deng tried to enrich socialism by using capitalist techniques. Deng allowed privatisation to blossom. …In the classical sense, China cannot be called a “socialist state”. Yes, Deng is very popular in China; more popular than Mao. Yet, one dares to profess that Deng made a historic blunder by introducing privatisation. Privatisation is an antithesis of socialism. Privatisation and socialism cannot go together. Privatisation, foreign capital, corruption, and the revival of Confucianism have already started eating into the vitals of Chinese socialism.

The author begins to deal with the concept and origin of socialism. Here he discusses the basis of scientific socialism vis-à-vis utopian socialism. Then he writes:

Socialism is an antithesis to capitalism; it could also be viewed as a contrast to individualism. Socialism prefers “cooperation” rather than “competition”. The core of socialism is to construct a collective society based on equality; socialism has also been portrayed as a system of egalitarianism and ideologically superior to capitalism, and above all, the ultimate object of socialism is to abolish “private property”. …Centralised planning, state ownership, and dictatorship of the proletariat constitute the basic features of socialism and the nationalisation of the means of production must be considered as the first principle of socialism, Marx argued.

The author also points out:

Academically, Marx in his list of “bonafide revolutionaries” had not incorporated the role of peasants. Instead, Marx in his writings had scorned the peasants for being reactionary and narrow minded. Because of the lust for land, Marx very often used the phrase “rural idiocy” for the peasantry. However, the “peasantry” played a role of cardinal importance in leading the communist revolution in agrarian societies including China.

In the second chapter—“Origin, Growth and Victory of Socialist Ideas in China (1850-1949)”—the author starts his journey with the Taiping Rebellion, then talks of Liang Qichao, Sun Yat-sen, Cai Yuanpei, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Lu Xun, the May Fourth Movement, and finally the birth of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. The rupture between Li Lisan and Mao Zedong, the writings of Qu Qiubai and Mao Dun have been discussed. Without naming the Zunyi Conference of the CPC, the author talks of Mao’s ascendancy to power. Democratic and socialist ideas took almost a century to win over China. The process began after the Opium War. However, the May Fourth Movement became the demarcating line between the traditional China and modern China. The Communists led a successful revolution in 1949 as a result of capturing the urban and rural Chinese mind in the aftermath of their War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45).

In the third chapter, the author discusses agrarian socialism versus advanced industrial system as a part of the internal debate on socialism in China during 1950-67. The contradictions between Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi’s formulations for a socialist society in China eventually brought forth in a virulent manner the inner-party contradictions.

The fourth chapter—“Post-Cultural Revolution Debate on Socialism (1968-76)”—as referred to by the author, would have been better if termed as “Debate on Socialism during the Cultural Revolution…” The ‘Post’ factor emerged only after the Cultural Revolution, that is, after 1976. The fact that during the Mao-Liu contradiction, Mao being on the offensive and Liu on the defensive—does not absolve Mao from being criticised for his personal vendetta and vindictive attitude towards Liu Shaoqi , and his responsibility for the latter’s tragic death. History has testified how horribly Mao failed in his post-1949 political campaigns. His “Great Leap Forward”, “Anti-Rightist Campaign” and the “Cultural Revolution” consumed very many good talents that could have otherwise contributed towards the development of Chinese socialism in a humanely pragmatic direction. The whole debate around “Class Struggle” and “Revisionism” led China nowhere. It brought hardship, suspicion, persecution and sorrow to the people who fell in between the fruitless debate on ideology. There is no doubt that Liu Shaoqi submitted his “self-confession” under duress. Yet his life was not spared by Mao who had already decided to dispose of his ‘political opponent’. Mao’s suspicion against his own party comrades—Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and others—and his immense ego around his personality cult that he had carefully nurtured ultimately ruined his very image in the long run, and also led to a reversal of policies in every field after his death when Deng ascended to the seat of power.

In the fifth chapter—“Hua’s Nuances of Socialism (1976-78)”—the author tries his best to highlight the positive aspects of Hua Guofeng, a protégé of Mao. However, Hua could not leave any significant mark in the arena of Chinese socialist development. During his brief tenure in power, Hua could hardly do anything concrete as a chosen successor of Mao. Hua’s only contribution was to arrest the Gang of Four that had stopped the wheel of development in China, closed all educational institutions, and brought untold misery to his countrymen. Hua proved to be a stop-gap arrangement in the post-Mao Chinese politics. The author blames Hua Guofeng for not attacking Deng Xiaoping, and for half-heartedly upholding Mao’s revolutionary line.

HOWEVER, it was during Deng’s regime that the respect and honour of intellectuals were restored. Mao had treated intellectuals as part of the bourgeoisie, categorising them as choulaojiu—the stinking ninth grade in the social hierarchy. What Deng advocated was significant in terms of the qualitative advancement of human society. He professed that poverty is not socialism. If socialism is an advanced phase in social development compared to capitalism, then socialism must be in a position to improve the people’s livelihood and not be identified as a poor man’s ideology. Deng effectively implemented the practice of material incentive in the drive towards socialist reconstruc-tion. Here, while referring to Mao’s model in industry and agriculture, the author has missed mentioning that Mao’s slogan was—“Gongye xue Daqing: nongye xue Dazhai (Make Ta-Ch’ing an industrial model; and make Ta-Chai an agricultural model)”. [See p. 183]

While taking a clear-cut position against Deng’s socialism of material reward and ‘socialist profit’, the author lays excessive emphasis on his personal choice for an idealistic, orthodox and non-pragmatic interpretation of socialism. However, the present realities of China have revealed that an over-emphasis on economy and economic restructuring has given rise to mammonism, hedonism and degeneration of human values. The building of socialist values was once the hallmark of Mao’s era. Whereas Mao’s regime suppressed the material needs but encouraged and over-emphasised political activism, Deng’s era was marked by the amassing of material wealth but waning of the values of cooperation, sharing, comradely feelings, etc.

Deng’s postulates might sound quite queer to the orthodox, puritan or classical socialists in other countries. He encouraged the coastal regions of China to become rich sooner than the inland regions. In their drive for equality, the inland inhabitants would then aspire and strive for prosperity. This was what Deng had thought. Deng had realised the needs of the people. Didn’t Sukanto Bhattacharya, a revolutionary poet of Bengal, say that “in the world of hunger the world is denuded of poetry and the full moon looks like a baked bread”? Nowadays one can hear a popular saying in China—“Mao Zedong bang women zhanqilai, Deng Xiaoping bang women fuqilai (Mao Zedong helped us to stand on our feet, and Deng Xiaoping helped us to become rich)”. To regain national pride under Mao’s leadership, and to generate economic wealth under Deng’s leadership—these are two vital aspects that the Chinese would never be oblivious of.

The author analytically deals with the pros and cons of Deng’s era in the chapter “Deng’s Variant of Socialism”. Deng laid emphasis on accumulation of capital and technology for enhancing the modernisation of China. “Market socialism”—a new coinage by Deng—won the hearts of many Chinese. But in the long run one found that ‘Market’ could have nothing in common with ‘Socialism’. Therefore, one might say that the combination of two mutually incompatible phenomena of the human society is indeed a paradox. Privatisation—an important aspect of Deng’s socialism—too was termed as incongruous with the dogmatic tenets of socialism.

The author has made use of a wide range of source material for his in-depth research. Dr Sharma’s effort to bring forth the salient features of the political thoughts and policies of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin makes his book interesting. This is a well-researched work that addresses a wide range of questions regarding socialism and its Chinese version as practised in China today. This book turns out to be an important textbook for all those who care about the political history and realpolitik of China.

However, a bibliography at the end could have added greater clarity to the book. Two different systems of Chinese romanisation have been quite pathetically mixed up. Proof correction should have been done more vigorously in order to avoid errors. Nonetheless, this is a remarkable work that addresses the theme quite aptly, keeping in mind the author’s political leanings. No doubt, the classical political thinkers would be happy.

Prof Priyadarshi Mukherji belongs to the Centre for Chinese and South-East Asian Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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