Flag of China illustrated on geographic map of China

Opinion – In defence of China: A response

The article by Alan Farrell in the March issue under the heading “In defence of China” raises some extremely important questions but offers answers that are unsustainable.

The writer asks three questions to represent the concerns expressed by many people, and proceeds to answer them. But the questions themselves are inadequate, as they do not accurately represent those concerns.

The article states that “broadly speaking, critiques of China from the left fall into three categories,” which are listed as:

“(1) that the rapid growth and development of China is a cause for concern for environmental reasons;

“(2) that China engages in quasi-imperialism or ‘social-imperialism’ (a criticism that was also levelled by some at the Soviet Union); and

“(3) that China is a totalitarian state that abuses the human rights of its citizens.”

But that is not at all an accurate summary of the criticisms of the Chinese state and its policies.

(1) The concerns widely expressed about the environment may or may not be attributable to China’s “rapid growth and development,” but they are legitimate concerns nevertheless, for which there is overwhelming evidence. The reference to “unsustainable growth” is absolutely valid: that is precisely what China is engaged in. And it’s not to raise the standards of life of the Chinese people but to compete with the West.

“Do the people of China, and indeed all the other countries of the Global South, not deserve to enjoy the simple dignities, such as public transport infrastructure, well-maintained roads, widespread broadband internet connection, etc., that we take for granted in the West?” The phrasing of that question is highly dubious, an example of what is called the “straw man” argument: “Don’t put words in my mouth” is the spontaneous response of people being presented with that type of question. Who begrudges the Chinese people the desire for a better life? The question is how that is to be achieved—altogether a separate matter.

It is a well-established fact, acknowledged by many on the serious left, that China’s economic miracle is largely a consequence of the mass of industrial workers being paid slave wages—and in some instances, in fact, subjected to virtual slavery, with their human rights and needs not acknowledged, including being locked in their factories at night. (What would James Connolly think of that?)

And this is the means whereby the rest of the world (including Ireland) is flooded with Chinese consumer goods, at unbelievably low prices. It is virtually impossible to buy any consumer goods today, from soft toys to computers, that are not made in China. Thanks to the fact that both countries embrace “free trade,” these goods can be sold by China at prices at which they could not be produced in Ireland, or anywhere else. And free trade makes it next to impossible for other countries to create, or to sustain, industrial manufacturing or industrial development.

As to being the biggest manufacturer and buyer of electric vehicles in the world, unfortunately this claim comes up against the growing body of evidence that the virtue of electric cars is bogus.

(2) The suggestion that China is criticised by the left for engaging in “quasi-imperialism” or “social-imperialism” does not ring true. The serious left does not use the term “quasi-imperialism” (whatever it means) or “social-imperialism” (a term from the early history of the communist movement that later became part of Maoist vocabulary, intended to denigrate the Soviet Union); but it does use the unvarnished term “imperialism,” applying it in the sense it which it was used by Lenin and by communist parties since then.

The left (broadly speaking) criticises China precisely for abandoning socialist principles and adopting the “capitalist road.” This does not mean a capitalist road to socialism, which is an impossibility, but simply a road to capitalism. That is the road that China is on, and has been on for many years. No amount of wishful thinking can disguise this fact.

(3) Again, not many people on the serious left use the non-class term “totalitarian state” in referring to China; but we have to face the fact that the lack of human rights (and civil rights) is a reality in China.

As for the answers offered by the writer to his own questions, these narrow the scope even further, singling out individual issues that are not at all representative. There are no grounds for suggesting that criticism of shortcomings in the treatment of the Uighur population is the essence of the critique of the status of human rights in China. The bulk of the published criticism in this area is indeed inspired by Western intelligence and propaganda; but who on the left said otherwise? It’s not valid to raise a broad question and then provide a narrow answer on one selected aspect.

Of most concern is the positive attitude in the article, both expressed and implied, to Maoism and its influence. Older readers won’t need to be reminded of the devastation caused to many countries (apart from China itself), and especially to communist parties, perpetrated by China during the Mao period. It would be laborious to list them all, but among the most significant are the attempts—in several instances successful—to split or to destroy parties by sponsoring “alternative” communist parties, some of which were spurred on to irresponsible adventurism, which often led to violent repression—and in at least one case with China changing sides and supplying arms to the state that was massacring communists.

China, under Maoism and later, clandestinely supported white Rhodesia and South Africa. In the 1960s and 70s it promoted the spurious Pan-Africanist Congress, set up to oppose the African National Congress. It sponsored and financed similar rival “liberation movements” elsewhere, whose only purpose was to destroy the authentic liberation movements, then engaged in a life-or-death struggle against colonial and white-supremacist states, for the simple reason that they were perceived to be led by communists. In South Africa and Namibia it was only the internationalist intervention of Cuba that stopped these forces in their tracks.

And today China is the fifth-largest arms supplier in the world, as well as the largest supplier to Africa.

The assertion that “the central structural principle that underpins the country” is “the guiding principles of Marxism-Leninism . . .” is far removed from the reality. Here is the crunch of the matter. It is simply not true that Marxism-Leninism underpins China’s official policies; and the use of the term “Mao Zedong thought” (the attempt to elevate Maoist opportunism to a status equal to Marxism-Leninism) must cause serious concern for those who remember the reality.

The Communist Party of Greece, which is known for the competence and the rigour of its Marxist analysis, has produced a comprehensive examination of the situation in China,* with neither undue harshness nor rose-tinted spectacles. Young Marxists would be well advised to read that analysis, and consider its conclusions.