The CCP Congress and the Bankruptcy of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”
The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP) concluded last weekend with the installation of Xi Jinping for a third term as general secretary of the party; the stacking of the party’s top body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, with Xi’s supporters; and the incorporation of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era” into the party constitution.
The whole ritualistic and orchestrated affair praising Xi as the “core” of the party, with its huge united bureaucratic apparatus behind it, belies the huge crisis facing the CCP regime on all fronts. Xi’s relentless elevation and promotion as a great leader is not a sign of strength, but rather of weakness.
Xi assumed the character of a Bonapartist leader poised precariously between the underground factions plaguing the party amid a slowing Chinese economy, deep social tensions and an accelerating push by Washington toward war with Beijing.
Xi opened Congress with a two-hour long report that referred to the many deep-seated problems facing his regime that he could provide no solution to. He began with the statement that “the theme of this Congress is to hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, fully implementing thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Amid the constant repetition of the mantra of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, Xi develops his conception of national development, of what is in reality Chinese capitalism, excised from the global economy on which it is completely dependent.
Xi’s nationalism is rooted in Stalin’s theory of “socialism in one country”. Leon Trotsky, who championed the perspective of world socialist revolution on which the Russian Revolution of 1917 was based, repeatedly warned that “socialism in one country” was a nationalist utopia.
In 1925, he wrote in his pamphlet Towards socialism or capitalism? analyzing the future development of the Soviet Union: “From an academic point of view, it is understood that one can build within the borders of the USSR a closed and internally balanced socialist economy; but the long historical road to this “national” ideal would pass through gigantic economic changes, social convulsions and crises…
“The impossibility of building a self-sufficient socialist economy in a single country revives the fundamental contradictions of socialist construction at each new stage on an extended and deeper scale. In this sense, the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR would inevitably suffer destruction if the capitalist regime in the rest of the world proved capable of sustaining itself for another long historical epoch.
Trotsky’s clairvoyant prognosis was to prove correct. The Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991 and opened it up to capitalist plunder. The deformed workers state that emerged in China after the 1949 Revolution proved even weaker and more vulnerable, opening the door to capitalist market forces and global corporate investment from 1978 onwards.
In his speech, Xi highlighted China’s significant achievements, including the astonishing growth of the Chinese economy over the past three decades. However, far from being a purely national economic development, it was the product of the enormous progress achieved by the Chinese Revolution of 1949 – itself the result of international processes which gave rise to the Russian Revolution and the revolutionary movements of the working class after World War II. .
The very fact that Xi has to cover his capitalist politics under the cloak of socialism speaks to the high esteem in which the Chinese revolution is held among broad layers of the working class in China. The capitalist nature of today’s China, however, is reduced to an addendum – a minor blemish on an otherwise healthy socialism!
In his speech, Xi was able to highlight the government’s tremendous achievement in suppressing repeated waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and saving millions of lives. Its zero Covid policy, itself a response to workers’ expectations of safeguarding their well-being, demonstrated that the virus could be eliminated, but only if organized internationally.
However, China’s very economic rise has only aggravated the problems the regime is facing, which cannot be solved domestically. Economic growth has led to a huge escalation of social tensions, fueled by growing social polarization between rich and poor and the relentless exploitation of the working class.
What Trotsky wrote about the Soviet Union, that it needed access to the world’s resources and technology, is certainly true of China. Its extraordinary economic growth is entirely tied to its transformation into a cheap labor platform for global corporations. It was and remains dependent on access to the global market to sell its goods and, at the same time, needs access to international capital and advanced technology.
However, the international lifelines of the Chinese economy are now under threat. Its very growth has generated enormous tensions with US imperialism, which sees it as the main threat to its global hegemony. As Xi noted, without ever directly referring to the United States, there are “drastic changes in the international landscape, in particular external attempts at blackmail, containment, blockade and exerting pressure maximum on China”.
Capitalism with Chinese characteristics now confronts imperialism with American characteristics. The United States is gathering its allies and its economic and military resources to undermine and subjugate China. The Biden administration has maintained massive trade tariffs on China imposed by Trump and expanded its technology bans to include all advanced semiconductors and the equipment needed to manufacture them. The United States and its allies, already at war with Russia in Ukraine, are seeking to induce China to take military action to reunify Taiwan, which is armed to the teeth.
Xi and the CCP regime are well aware that the US-NATO war in Ukraine is the antechamber to a war with China, but they have no progressive response to US aggression. In response to US embargoes and military buildup, the CCP is desperate to catch up technologically and militarily. But the logic of this arms race is the rapid descent into war between nuclear powers which means annihilation for humanity.
The regime itself is a crisis regime. In his report, Xi painted a devastating picture of the ossified bureaucratic apparatus that installed him as a leader. It is a party plagued by “a lack of clear understanding and effective action, as well as the slide into weak, hollow and watered down party leadership and practice…Despite repeated warnings, unnecessary formalities, the the hedonism and extravagance of bureaucracy persisted…the problems and institutions established and the barriers built by vested interests became more and more apparent…erroneous patterns of thought, such as the cult of money , hedonism, egocentrism and historical nihilism were common, and the online discourse was plagued with disorder, all of which had a serious impact on people’s thinking and the public opinion environment.
When Xi speaks of corruption, it is always reduced to evil individuals and their intentions but never to the social order of capitalism. Moreover, it is a regime in which all power remains in the hands of the bureaucracy in a country of 1.4 billion people. In Xi’s “advanced socialist consultative democracy”, the apparatus decides if and when someone will be consulted about decisions that impact their life.
The CCP’s nationalist response to the global crisis of the capitalist system is being pursued in one form or another by the United States and all imperialist powers, as well as the Russian regime. It is a path that leads inexorably to the escalation of military conflict and to a world war involving the nuclear-armed powers, because the conflict of national interests of these States cannot be resolved by peaceful means.
The very issues raised by Trotsky, against one-country socialism and economic nationalism, retain extraordinary relevance and are key to understanding the fundamental contradictions facing the Chinese regime. The only viable alternative to economic nationalism is the prospect of world socialist revolution that animated the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the founding of communist parties around the world, including in China. It is this program that workers in China and around the world must adopt in the struggle to end the scourges of disease, poverty and war engendered by capitalism.