Book review: “The East is Still Red”
The new book, The East is Still Red: Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century, by Carlos Martinez and published by Praxis Press, is a valuable and important defense of socialism in the People’s Republic of China today. As the U.S. ramps up propaganda and aggression against China, this book addresses an important need, for everyone who wants a better world, to understand and defend China.
The book begins by acknowledging that there is a great deal of ignorance and confusion, especially in the imperialist countries, about China. Martinez writes, “Even among socialists and communists, there are misconceptions and important gaps in understanding.” He addresses these issues head on.
The first chapter focuses on the continuities of the revolution in China, from the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921 until today. Martinez gives an overview of the history of the Chinese revolution and defends that legacy of Mao Zedong, while giving a balanced account of Mao’s more controversial initiatives, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
For example, while acknowledging that the turmoil and disruption of the Cultural Revolution significantly impeded China’s development, he also points out that it “had a more directly useful outcome” in terms of preventing the “ideological decay that was taking place in the Soviet Union.” According to Martinez it “set the parameters of how far Reform and Opening Up could go” and “laid the groundwork for Deng Xiaoping’s Four Cardinal Principles, which the CPC continues to observe today: 1) We must keep to the socialist road; 2) We must uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship; 3) We must uphold the leadership of the Communist Party; 4) We must uphold Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.
Furthermore, he explains that the movement to send young intellectuals down to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution “was a crucial factor in the development of a new generation of young intellectuals with a close understanding of the needs of the peasantry and the situation in the countryside.” It is noteworthy that Chinese President Xi Jinping was himself sent to the countryside as part of this movement.
Looking at the post-1978 Reform and Opening Up period initiated by Deng Xiaoping, Martinez recognizes that many see this period as “a turning point in the wrong direction.” Martinez argues against this view. Instead, Martinez notes, “Deng Xiaoping’s strong belief was that, unless the government delivered on a significant improvement in people’s standard of living, the entire socialist project would lose its legitimacy and therefore be in peril.”
This is a point that Martinez revisits in the chapter “Will China suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union?” He argues that the combination of economic stagnation and ideological decay in the USSR led to the collapse of socialism in the USSR.
This point should be made clearer. Indeed, while the material basis of Soviet revisionism was rooted in the economic reforms of the Khrushchev period, which emphasized market reforms, profitability, material incentives, and so on, a deciding factor was the question of the class struggle in the superstructure and the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism by the Soviet leadership. Contrast the People’s Republic of China’s Four Cardinal Principles with Khrushchev’s revisionist theses of “state of the whole people” and “party of the whole people,” negating the class character of the USSR and Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and it is easy to see the gulf that stands between the two approaches.
Martinez rightly notes that the CPC’s reform period took a “grassroots” approach that was “patient, incremental, and results-oriented” while the Gorbachev “reforms” that brought about the final restoration of capitalism in the USSR in 1991, were undemocratically imposed on the Soviet people, rather than leveraging the creativity of the Soviet masses.
Martinez explains, “Although China’s reform process served to introduce market forces into the economy, the whole process was carried out under the tight control of the government and took place within the context of a planned economy.” Indeed, the commanding heights of the Chinese economy remain state owned, with state owned enterprises making up 60% of the economy; and most of the value created by the working class in China is socially distributed, going towards the betterment of society. And while the revisionists in the Soviet Union attacked the history of the USSR and spent 30 years dismantling the rule of the proletariat and its party, the opposite has taken place in China, where the CPC maintains its central, leading role, based on the scientific application of Marxism to Chinese conditions. In fact, when rightists in the CPC led by Zhao Ziyang tried to restore capitalism in 1989, the CPC stood firm in its commitment to the socialist road.
A highlight of the book is a careful and thorough analysis of “China’s long war against poverty.” The People’s Republic of China has eradicated extreme poverty. What does this mean? “At the start of the targeted poverty alleviation programme in 2014,” Martinez writes, “just under 100 million people were identified as living below the poverty line; seven years later, the number was zero.” The Chinese government defines extreme poverty alleviation in terms of what it calls the “two assurances and three guarantees.” As Martinez explains, “The two assurances are for adequate food and clothing; the three guarantees are for access to medical services, safe housing with drinking water and electricity, and at least nine years of free education.” He contrasts this to the advanced capitalist countries, where nothing is promised, where profit is more important than people, and where poverty and inequality are on the rise.
Likewise, the book highlights the People’s Republic of China’s commitment to ecological development. Martinez writes that, “Over the last decade in particular, China has emerged as the undisputed leader in the fight against climate breakdown, and the results of this leadership are reverberating globally.”
Against the charge from some, even on the Left, that China is imperialist, Martinez argues that “imperialism doesn’t look like this.” He explains the Leninist theory of imperialism as monopoly capitalism. According to Lenin, imperialism is based on the concentration of capital into monopolies, whereby the economy becomes dominated by a “financial oligarchy.” The export of capital takes center stage, and monopolist capitalist associations share the world among themselves, leading to the total division of the world among the imperialist powers. The October Revolution in 1917 ruptured this imperialist chain, and the other socialist countries, including China, followed suit.
Against the claim that China is imperialist, The East is Still Red emphasizes that China’s role in the developing world is qualitatively different from that of the imperialist countries. It acknowledges that imperialism has the function of locking in underdevelopment, while China’s role encourages development while respecting sovereignty. The book discusses this issue in terms of China’s role in “building a multipolar world.” The concept of “multipolarity” doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue, however, as Martinez himself acknowledges by saying that “the multipolar narrative doesn’t make explicit reference to anti-imperialism.”
Indeed, it would be clearer to understand the place of China in relation to the four fundamental contradictions operating on a world scale: the contradiction between the working class and the capitalists, the contradiction between the imperialist powers, the contradiction between the imperialists and the oppressed nations, and the contradiction between the imperialists and the socialist countries. Of these, the contradiction between the imperialists and the oppressed nations is primary, meaning it is the contradiction that is driving things on a world scale. What China is doing is providing aid to the countries of the developing world that allows them to avoid the liberalization, privatization, domination and plunder that are central to the neo-colonialist approach of the imperialist countries. While this development isn’t sufficient to bring socialism to those countries, it does serve to further weaken imperialism.
Importantly, Martinez also discusses the growing drive for war against China from the imperialist powers, especially the United States. He explains how the U.S. attempts to manufacture consent for aggression against China, and answers the propaganda with facts. Against the “Third Camp” Trotskyites who say “Neither a Washington nor Beijing,” Martinez is clear that they are, in fact, playing right into the hands of the imperialists.
The bulk of Chapter 5 of The East is Still Red is devoted to debunking the imperialist accusations that the People’s Republic of Cina is committing human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. The book refutes the lie that the Chinese government is committing “cultural genocide” and is operating “concentration camps.” Similarly, it exposes the role of the U.S. in attempting to destabilize Xinjiang.
The book ends with a call to “unite to oppose the U.S.-led New Cold War on China,” and says that “All those that oppose imperialism must resolutely and consistently oppose the U.S.-led New Cold War in all its manifold forms.” This is certainly true, and this book makes a great contribution towards that effort.