Diplomacy and dissonance
The Morning Stars CPB is concerned and worried about the Communist Party of Chinas embrace of capitalist relations. Lawrence Parker reports
In August 2011, a delegation of representatives from eight western European ‘official’ communist splinters visited China. These representatives included some from the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
The inclusion of the Greek comrades was an interesting choice for the Chinese hosts, given that in 2010, Elisseos Vagenas, a member of the KKE’s central committee, produced an article that was sharply critical of developments in China. It concluded: “… the dominance of capitalist relations in China, which is a fact today, slowly or quickly will lead to a bigger compliance of the political system, the dominant ideology and all the elements of the superstructure, whose capitalist character will be reflected in its symbols. The intensification of class contradictions will ripen and so will the need for the revolutionary labour movement to be represented by its own party against capitalist power.” In other words, the game is up for clinging onto the Communist Party of China (CPC) as some kind of bastion of progress.
Following its jaunt to China last year, and in the very best traditions of ‘official’ communist ‘internationalism’, the CPB has a softer, more diplomatic, take on all this. John Foster, the CPB’s international secretary, said in regard to his delegation’s trip: “There’s a danger of being unduly negative; there’s a danger of being unduly positive as well. There’s a question: will China go the same way as the Soviet Union? Could the pro-capitalist elements take over? I don’t know. I think they probably won’t. But they certainly could. So, one is concerned and worried.”2
Foster and Robert Griffiths, the CPB’s general secretary, were both on the trip to China and it is they who have produced the British organisation’s report on the August 2011 delegation - Which road for China? Their conclusion echoes similar themes to those of the KKE, albeit fudging the issue in a similar manner to Foster’s above remarks: “While the trade unions and the party emphasise harmonious workplace relations in the national interest (which incorporates the interests of the working class), more and more workers may come to see themselves as a subordinate section of society whose economic and political interests are not adequately represented.”
Foster and Griffiths conclude: “How the CPC draws these workers into the trade union movement and the party as active participants, who see themselves as - and actually are - the masters of society’s economic and political system and not its victims, will determine China’s line of march. It is not clear whether or to what degree the CPC sees the dangers to socialism in these terms or, if so, what strategy the party has to counter it. Forward to developed socialism, or into the ditch of monopoly capitalism? The interests of workers and humanity across the world demand that it be the former.”
This hesitancy in regards to China’s capitalist development is very obviously a reflection of reality. Foster and Griffiths note: “Potential threats to the revolution do not come from any existing political forces. In the estimation of the Communist Party of Britain representatives on the delegation, they arise from the very forces of economic development unleashed by the CPC itself.”
However, such hesitancy also reflects a partial disintegration of the underlying theoretical justification that the likes of Griffiths have given to China’s turn to capitalism. For example, in the report of the CPB’s 2006 delegation to China, it was argued: “In defence of the NEP, Lenin made many of the same points as Deng Xiaoping and CPC representatives make today in defence of China’s current course: that market mechanisms and incentives had to be utilised to stimulate production, particularly of vital food and fuel for urban areas; that no immediate, large-scale alternative source of capital and technology existed to that offered by foreign capital; that socialism could not be built on mass poverty; and that such rapid industrial development would, despite the dangers, also ensure the rapid growth of an industrial proletariat as potentially the most resolute and disciplined force for building socialism.”5
Now the CPB admits that “Chinese communists are not comfortable with the analogy” with the Bolsheviks’ New Economic Policy, and the emphasis has switched to “similarities and differences with the NEP”. Foster and Griffiths note that China’s ‘primary stage’ of ‘building socialism’ (what one might dub ‘socialism with capitalist characteristics’) is expected to last until at least 2050. So now, presumably under the comradely direction of their Chinese comrades, they note: “... the NEP lasted for no more than eight years. It was ditched some five years after Lenin’s death, partly in reaction to the growth of profiteering and speculation, and partly in favour of rapid industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation on the basis of public ownership and centralised planning and control. How long it was originally intended to last - or might have lasted had Lenin had lived longer - is not clear.”
Clearly there have been differences between the CPB and the CPC over the international perspectives of the Chinese and its incorporation into the world capitalist economy. This has always been something of a stumbling block with traditional pro-Soviet organisations since the CPC allied itself with the USA in the 1970s. China would have never been a ‘natural’ choice for the CPB. Rather, the collapse of the ‘official’ communist regimes in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union forced this choice upon it. However, the CPB, when addressing the CPC, chose to dress up its current concerns in typical diplomatic tomfoolery:
“We appreciate China’s policy of peaceful co-existence. We understand that you cannot allow your country to be provoked into dangerous confrontations. Yet many millions of people across the world now look to China to use every peaceful avenue to curb the aggressive, interventionist agenda of the USA, Britain and other imperialist powers. You have the solidarity of our parties in taking on the very serious responsibility that humanity places upon you.”
I am quite sure that when the Chinese comrades carefully weigh up their place in the capitalist world order against the solidarity that the likes of the CPB can offer, they will quickly come to their senses.
The main method used in constructing this CPB report is essentially an empiricist one. In a similar manner to the various ‘analyses’ that the ‘official’ CPGB used to make of the Soviet Union (where pig-iron production was meant to compensate for Stalin’s crimes), we are given a host of facts and small-scale reportage, while difficult questions, such as ‘Is China socialist?’ are hedged around with further questions or appeals to higher authority.
That method, however, always leaves the thorny question of what such ‘facts’ actually mean. Thus we can read that: “The handling of passengers at airports is … as efficient as the best in Europe. Public bus transport in the cities and towns appeared to be high-quality, plentiful and frequent.” All this must be incredibly useful if you are planning a holiday to China in the near future (and I’d certainly be inclined to give John and Rob a ring about restaurants and hotels) but when there are clearly major issues of a country’s historical trajectory at stake, it all becomes slightly surreal.
The method becomes even more bizarre when Foster and Griffiths stumble over more controversial items. They state: “In Zhejiang province, the most developed of all Chinese provinces with a very high level of private enterprise, the head of party organisation described CPC branches in private firms as ‘too often’ being ‘battling fortresses’, having to struggle to assert workers’ rights … Elsewhere, on the other hand, representatives of the party branch were described as chairing the investment committees of private companies.” I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a hell of a relief to know that Chinese communists are listened to somewhere.
Therefore, two big questions are largely avoided. The first one is a point that many CPB members and supporters have raised in various forums over the years. This is the advantages or otherwise of subscribing to what has been termed as an ‘elevator theory’ of building socialism. That is, you use capitalism for the first part of the journey. You get off at the first stage and then board another elevator for the journey to communism. Therefore, capitalism can be wielded by so-called progressive forces such as the CPC and the ANC in South Africa as an essentially immobile, benign and neutral force without serious consequences for future stages of development.
This is, of course, a thoroughly idealist fallacy. The spreading of capitalist tendrils throughout society, as the KKE has comprehended and the CPB has begun to admit, poses a future of capitalism, not communism, as its influence spreads through the “superstructure” and ideology of a society.
The second question pertains to the issue of ‘socialism in one country’, which is presented empirically as a ‘natural’ response to the log-jam of bureaucratic autarchy in the 1970s: “‘Reform and opening up’ was the [Chinese] party’s response to the crisis of the late 1970s: a crisis of extreme poverty and of stalled economic development based on Soviet-type central planning.”11 Of course, for the CPC bureaucracy there was simply no alternative to opening up to global capital if it wanted to retain power in its own national silo. And there’s the rub. The CPB is utterly addicted to its own brand of ‘national socialism’ and is thus currently incapable of foreseeing any alternative to the path of the CPC.
This could lead it into another ideological cul-de-sac. It seems fairly certain that, sooner or later, following the lead of the KKE, the CPB will eventually denounce the CPC for the restoration of capitalist relations in China. This would presumably have consequences for the theory of ‘national’ roads to socialism and the need for a reliance on the world market. Yet if “Soviet-type central planning” only leads to dysfunctional economies and poverty, what precisely is the alternative?
3. Which road for China? - report of 2011 delegation of western European CPs p35.
4. Ibid p31.
5. China’s line of march - report of the Communist Party of Britain delegation to China 2006, p31.
6. Which road for China? p14.
8. Ibid p20.
9. Ibid p5.
10. Ibid p27.
11. Ibid pp6-8.