The China of Mao and Xi Jinping



Preface to the recently released book by Renildo Souza

China has been at the center of global attention in recent years. After being the Middle Kingdom and having gone through the “Century of unfair treaties and humiliations”, it once again attracted the attention of the world several times: by carrying out a victorious revolution in 1949, by attempting an unprecedented Cultural Revolution between the 1960-1970 in the process of socialist transition, when market reforms began at the end of the 1970s and, now, when it appears to compete, with the United States of America (USA), for the hegemony of world capitalism.

It is to the study of the modern emergence of China that Renildo Souza has dedicated much of his effort to understand the entirety of the capitalist mode of production in its global crisis, both in its economic, social, political and ideological factors.

After having produced State and capital in China (2018), an excellent book about pro-market reforms, from the end of the 1970s to the present day, the author now presents us with a critical assessment of what was the previous path, called Maoist. It is the period between the conquest of power, with the arrival of troops from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Beijing on the 1st. from October 1949, until the death of the main leader of the revolution, Mao Zedong, which coincides with the beginning of the economic, political, social and ideological reforms that led China to capitalism.

Your task is not easy. On the contrary, it requires, in addition to a systematic research effort, a critical stance and intellectual and political courage.

But, tinkering with the most recent history of China's capitalist conversion – presented using a wealth of data and an innovative interpretation of the process that the eastern dragon continues to develop to this day – was already a great challenge, imagine tinkering with the real tangle of audacity and contradictions of the previous period.

The analysis is very difficult because, first of all, there is no consensus on the interpretations or even on many of the “objective” data, which have also become heavily influenced by the biased “subjectivity” of different internal groups within the Communist Party of China. (PCCh), Marxist currents abroad and “analysts” in economics, political science, international relations and the Western bourgeois media.

Despite all these difficulties in obtaining truly reliable data on various issues of the period – such as the so-called great famine and its consequences, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), crises, political violence, removal of party and state activists and leaders, etc. –, Renildo Souza managed to present us with a work that allows us to begin studying the issue of Era Mao or Maoism, without losing sight of the current reality.

Thus, the book also helps us to understand in a more rigorous way the subsequent period itself and what is considered “success” obtained by the anti-Maoist currents that emerged victorious in the internal struggle within the party and that created the conditions for the advance of capital over labor , of the private over the State and of capitalism over socialism in China.

In summary, the book fulfills three very important roles. It takes stock of Maoism, defines the objective and subjective bases and conditions on which market reforms were carried out and concludes by updating its critical analysis of the period led by Xi Jinping.

The author begins with a brief retrospective of the ancient civilizing process, seeking to show to what extent this rich history influenced the Chinese revolutionary process. It is a process that included the constitution of the immense Middle Empire, which considered itself the center of the civilized world, with a vast territory, a huge population predominantly homogeneous in ethnic terms, a state power with more than two thousand years of life and an ideology of State, the Confucian doctrine, which ensured the stability of a hierarchical social and political order that exploited and oppressed the immense majority of the people.

From there, the author describes the decline of the Qing dynasty within the framework of the de facto colonization of China by Western powers (especially England) and Japan in the period that was marked as the “century of unfair treaties and humiliations”. After an incomplete republican revolution and the founding of the Communist Party of China (CCP), with moments of alliance and confrontation with the Guomindang – a republican party that was born nationalist, but ends up submitting to imperialist policies –, the revolutionary process advances with strategies now influenced by the Third Communist International, now finally defined by the Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong. It was in this process that he, Mao, ended up consolidating himself as the main theoretical and practical leader of the party and the People's Liberation Army, as well as the main popular leader of New China.

With consistent data, the author shows how moments of alliances, mistrust, independence and, finally, rupture developed between the Communist Party of China, under the leadership of Mao, with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Stalin himself. It highlights the entire course of Mao's fundamental contribution to the definition of the strategy that allowed the Chinese people, within the particular characteristics of their socioeconomic, political, cultural and historical reality, to find the path to conquering power. It was a strategy in which the proletariat is seen as the ruling class; the peasantry, as the main class; and the very fragile portion of the national bourgeoisie, dissociated from imperialism and the latifundium, an allied class. Political leadership rested with the Marxist-oriented Communist Party of China, and mass, mainly peasant, military strength was the substance of the People's Liberation Army.

The book analytically describes the various moments in the economic, technological, scientific, political, military and ideological construction of the New Democracy that was installed in Beijing in 1949, but which had already been embryonically constructed since before, in the areas liberated in the process of the prolonged people's war. .

The revolutionaries came to power in a very difficult situation, after many years of civil war, foreign invasions, the Second World War with the particularity of the occupation of Manchuria by the Japanese and a certain state disintegration. Furthermore, hunger was an element of the daily lives of a very illiterate people, industrialization was incipient, technological capacity was very low and there was a flight of capital and means of production transferred to Taiwan and other countries with US military protection. .

To make matters worse, just about a year after gaining power, the Chinese were practically forced to intervene victoriously in the Korean War against the US military forces that had invaded the Korean peninsula from the South.

The book also describes and analyzes well the contradictory relations between China and the USSR and also between the CCP and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) since before the conquest of power. It was a complex process in which, still under Stalin's direction, the USSR did not invest in the Chinese revolution, favoring relations with the Guomindang. Afterwards, the Soviets began to provide important, but short-lived, support for industrial construction. But as the already existing divergences worsened after Stalin's death, both with regard to the construction of socialism in China and international politics; This ended up resulting in a withdrawal of all support from the USSR and even military conflicts on the border between both countries.

However, even with all these difficult preconditions and despite the following setbacks, the Chinese will manage to emerge victorious in the fundamental steps for their initial development, which encouraged them to advance more quickly through the so-called “Great Leap Forward”, which brought contradictory results. Renildo Souza shows how the most ambitious objectives were not achieved, that there was a certain disorganization of the production process and, in conjunction with natural disasters, a temporary increase in hunger that claimed lives. But, on the other hand, according to the author, it brought some positive effects to the collectivization and industrialization process that followed.

Another very controversial and complex issue was the so-called “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”. Just like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution had the objective of developing an uninterrupted revolutionary process that would allow not only to promote rapid industrial and technological development, but also, concomitantly, a greater collectivization and socialization of the productive and political process in the sense of confront bureaucratic, conservative and bourgeois tendencies in society, in the State and even in the party.

However, it also aimed at a dispute between Mao and the most left-wing currents of the CCP with the current led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who were removed from the leadership of the party and the State, but who, through Deng, returned to leadership after the Mao's death to implement pro-market reforms, in a direction opposite to that attempted in the previous period.

The author dealt with the subject in a critical but prudent way, considering that, regardless of the initial objectives, the Cultural Revolution ended up getting out of control and generating sectarianism, acts of violence against intellectuals, authoritarian forms of ideological imposition and way of life, incompatible with the expressed objectives.

This is a very rich topic for debate, as it meant the discussion about the relations between party, State and mass initiative and the relations between the weight of the so-called “development of productive forces” in general and that of this development dialectically articulated with a “ development of production relations” and culture as a way of life in general, which could allow the transition to socialism not to become bureaucratized or bourgeoisized and regress. A process in which it was necessary to place “politics in the command post”, as the class struggle continues in the socialist transition.

Many important facts remain shrouded in mystery, such as the death of People's Liberation Army commander Lin Biao in 1971, allegedly while fleeing by plane to the USSR, and the rapid purge of the Shanghai Group immediately after Mao's death. The group was led by Jiang Qing, Mao's companion/widow who headed the leftmost wing of the CCP and was the only woman who played a major role in the leadership of the party and the revolution.

In the critical assessment made by the author, a discussion on Mao's particular or universal theoretical contributions, on the meaning of Maoism and its influence on the international communist movement and national liberation movements, on the “Three Worlds Theory”, is also significant. as well as “Mao Zedong Thought”, seen by the Chinese as a universal development of the so-called “Marxism-Leninism”. And, in the midst of this, he also presents us with a critique of the development of a “cult of personality” by Mao.

But, despite almost 30 years marked by many moments of internal instability, international isolation and external threats, the People's Republic of China (PRC) achieved many important economic and material achievements that are reflected in the development of national productive forces. Between 1952 and 1978, Chinese GDP grew by an average of 6,2% per year and industrial GDP by an average of 9,4%. Coal production increased nine-fold, steel production 32-fold and energy production 36-fold, and nuclear tests were carried out. In the ten years prior to pro-market reforms, GDP had grown by an average of 6,8% per year. The population grew from 540 to 950 million people and life expectancy doubled from 35 to 68 years, which reflects a great improvement in production and in food, health and living conditions in general.

Finally, the author also updates his previous book on China, providing a comparative analysis between the challenges faced by Mao Zedong and those that Xi Jinping currently faces.

As we have seen, Mao's last battle was against the restoration of capitalism in China. He had in mind what had already happened with the great German socialist workers' party, which had succumbed to bourgeois hegemony, and what, in his analysis, had happened in the USSR. He saw the danger of something that had not yet happened in China, but could happen if the line of Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping prevailed.

Today, capitalism has been consolidating more and more in China and its leaders continue to affirm that the People's Republic of China continues to build socialism.

Mao saw the possibility of happening what was not yet happening while the current leaders do not see what is already a reality. Perhaps because they overestimate the capacity of the State and the Party to reverse the predominance of large private capital in the country's economic and social life.

With a wealth of objective data, Renildo Souza shows the growing strength of large Chinese private companies, the consolidation of a large national bourgeoisie that multiplies the number of millionaires and billionaires, the increase in inequality of income and wealth, the policies and laws of the State that they stimulate private companies and the attraction of foreign capital and reinforce the right to private ownership of the means of production and the deepening of integration with global capitalism.

In this context, the author highlights that, among many challenges, the most important problem in current China is the restoration of the capitalist social order, with the emergence of a new bourgeoisie as the dominant class, with interests protected by the State, as well as the workforce. in merchandise condition.

What is common between the previous period, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, and the current one, led by Xi Jinping, is the discourse in defense of communism, the centrality of the party and the defense of Chinese national interests. But there is a great contradiction between discourse and practice. Between what was a transition process to the socialism of the so-called Maoist period and the current national-developmentalism of Xi Jinping.

Today, Xi identifies the central role of the technological dispute and acts to divide the imperialist system by heading a bloc of states in opposition to the USA. In this sense, China began to dispute the political centrality of the world, for which it has been consolidating a strategic alliance with Russia in a context of new inter-imperialist rivalries, among which is the war in Ukraine.

Renildo Souza goes on to highlight that the actions of Chinese monopoly companies today follow the same imperialist logic as transnational monopolies in general. Especially in its forays and investments in the so-called Global South, including Brazil. Above all, they promote and benefit from the super-exploitation of workers aimed at producing and transferring surplus value to their cash registers, in addition to the unequal exchange of primary goods for high-value industrialized goods and the negative environmental consequences.

These are actions “consistent with imperialist practices”, even if they have Chinese characteristics. China calls this win-win, a win-win of mutual interest with dependent countries. However, it is the State and its capital that control the process, earn more and reproduce dependence.

In short, there is a set of factors and conditions that make it increasingly difficult to believe in the possibility of a reversal of the current trend to consolidate, by 2050, China as a socialist country. Unless the concept of socialism is no longer the same, perhaps some kind of great capitalist power with a Welfare State with Chinese characteristics.

The situation does not prevent the reopening of paths towards a socialist future. However, this is not a simple continuity of the ongoing process, but a resumption of the memory of the revolution and the protagonism of the workers, perhaps reviving Mao Tse-Tung's last battle.

Ultimately, this work by Renildo Souza is indispensable reading not only to understand what the so-called Mao Era was, but also to understand China today. Whatever assessment one may have about the current character of the Chinese mode of production and the Chinese State and its prospects, the results obtained would not exist without the audacity, strategic capacity, construction of the foundations for the development of productive forces and the consolidation of national sovereignty founded in the previous period.

*Jorge Almeida He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFBA. Author, with Eliziário Andrade, of Turbulences and challenges: Brazil and the world in the crisis of capitalism (Dialectic Publisher). []


Renildo Souza. Mao and Xi Jinping's China: transformations and limits. Salvador, Editora da UFBA, 2023, 386 pages. []

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