This week marks the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, established on Oct. 1, 1949. The Chinese Revolution, which nearly doubled life expectancy in its first 30 years, is recognized as a hallmark of the socialist tradition. After nearly seven decades, China’s Communist Party — now comprising nearly 90 million members — continues to lead the country and maintains its commitment to socialism and Marxism.
However, today, many, particularly in the West, dismiss the notion that China remains socialist or even a progressive force in the world. According to this view, China abandoned socialism for capitalism following economic reforms which were initiated in 1978.
Given China’s increasingly important international role, it is critical that progressives and revolutionaries correctly understand the country. This article outlines why China is still a revolutionary, socialist state, and a friend to all those struggling against capitalism and imperialism around the world.
Reform or counter-revolution?
Existing in the periphery of global capitalism and facing consistent imperialist aggression, China has pursued socialist development under hostile conditions, having to address inequality not only within its society — the most populous in the world — but also globally, against the uneven development wrought by imperialism.
Since 1978, China has implemented economic reforms in order to overcome the severe underdevelopment which was historically imposed upon it by Western and Japanese imperialism. At that time, while having significantly improved living standards, China was still poor and underdeveloped, with a GDP per capita figure lower than that of India. The reforms allow for a sphere of capitalist development, while the commanding heights of the economy remain under public ownership and the firm control of the socialist state. Following their introduction, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth, building a modern, moderately prosperous country and becoming the second most powerful economy in the world.
If these reforms constituted the overthrow of socialism, one would expect to see a significant reduction in Chinese living standards. In Eastern Europe, capitalist counter-revolution led to the greatest population loss in modern history.
However, in China, living conditions are consistently improving. Since 1978, China has lifted over 800 million people out of poverty, more than the rest of the world combined, and is working to eradicate poverty by 2020. From 1978-2015, real income for the bottom half of earners grew 401 percent, compared to falling by one percent in the U.S. Chinese wage growth is also soaring, with hourly manufacturing wages rising 12 percent per year since 2001. Social supports are expanding as well—just this week China declared health care a universal human right.
It is clear that China stands in sharp contrast to the capitalist world, where climate destruction runs rampant and the majority of people’s livelihoods constantly face attacks. The qualitative difference between China and capitalist countries is precisely because China’s economy is not dominated by the capitalist need to maximize profit. This is especially apparent when China is compared to capitalist countries also in the Global South.
Class struggle continues
While capitalists exist in China today, unlike in capitalist societies, they are isolated and not organized in pursuit of their collective interests. Instead, they exist under the rule of the socialist state to aid national economic development. Capitalists transgressing their boundaries are swiftly dealt with by the Communist Party and the Chinese people. An annual list of China’s richest citizens is commonly called the “death list” or “kill pigs list” because those named often are later imprisoned. Capitalists also regularly get taken hostage by workers to win labor victories with police actively assisting workers.
While the reforms have presented new contradictions for China — particularly, greater income inequality — the Communist Party recognizes these challenges and works hard to address them. Since 2008, income inequality in China has stagnated and steadily decreased. In recent years the Party has waged an anti-corruption campaign, including cracking down on inappropriate uses of public funds. Promotions of government officials have also been tied to achievements in advancing people’s interests, such as environmental protection and raising living standards.
China has also emphasized strengthening Marxist education in the Communist Party and throughout society. President Xi Jinping has called for efforts to deepen understandings of Marxism, stating that “if we deviate from or abandon Marxism, our Party would lose its soul and direction … On the fundamental issue of upholding the guiding role of Marxism, we must maintain unswerving resolve, never wavering at any time or under any circumstances.” In primary and middle schools, youth receive daily education on socialist values, and universities are implementing new standards for Marxist education.
China supports the Global South
Internationally, China works with nations in the Global South, providing beneficial alternatives to imperialism and promoting greater representation for developing countries in global governance. While imperialist powers like the U.S. threaten nations with regime change and total devastation, China is committed to world peace and development across the Global South, where it builds infrastructure, forgives debt, and abides by the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Close relations with China have significantly benefited nations facing direct imperialist aggression, including Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, and North Korea. A key example of China’s global impact is the Belt and Road initiative — called “the largest single infrastructure program in human history” — currently involving 68 countries and 1700 development projects.
China is the primary force building a multipolar, more democratic international order, ending 500 years of Western imperial dominance. As such, China’s rise is bound with and supports the liberation of all peoples oppressed by imperialism.
The most promising hope
In spite of its achievements and distinction from capitalism, some still refuse to consider China revolutionary or socialist because of a supposed failure to conform to preconceived notions of a “true socialism”. This idealism was addressed by Fidel Castro, speaking in 1994:
"I think China is a socialist country … they insist that they have introduced all the necessary reforms in order to motivate national development and to continue seeking the objectives of socialism. There are no fully pure regimes or systems. In Cuba, for instance, we have many forms of private property. We have hundreds of thousands of farm owners … Practically all Cubans own their own home and, what is more, we welcome foreign investment. But that does not mean that Cuba has stopped being socialist."
Impressed by China’s achievements, Fidel declared, in 2004, that “China has become objectively the most promising hope and the best example for all Third World countries,” and that “Xi Jinping is one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders I have met in my life."
As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the U.S. aggressively seeks to defend its unipolar dominance over the world. The greatest force challenging U.S. imperialism is China, and for this reason, the U.S. considers China it’s “greatest threat” and increasingly hostile towards it. As such, China’s character is not an unnecessary, abstract subject to consider, but of crucial, immediate importance to all those who are struggling for peace and justice against capitalism and imperialism. In understanding China to be a revolutionary, socialist state, we must recognize that China is a leading member in that struggle and a friend to whom we owe respect and solidarity.
Ajit Singh is a Marxist, anti-imperialist writer and activist. He received his Juris Doctor in Law from the University of Western Ontario in 2014.