China – which socialism?



Considerations on the nature of the Chinese socio-economic formation.

The nature of the Chinese development process itself is the subject of immense and passionate controversy, the main one being the nature of its socio-economic formation. Socialism or capitalism. It would not be too much to warn that posing the question in these terms does not make a Marxist sense, as it refers more to Kant's “principle of identity” than to the “multiple correlation of phenomena”.

A reality is not capitalist or socialist a priori. It is the result of the combination of different contemporary but not contemporary modes of production, giving shape and content to specific social formations. Chinese market socialism, to us, would be a new typology of economic-social formations.

Taking reality from this level of abstraction demands a view of the historical process as an antidote to the famous “checklists” positivists who put an end to the old craze of Western social science (including those influenced by Marx) of seeking to classify and organize criteria for every phenomenon in front of them. The opposite would be correct: the concept is realized in real movement. In this sense, it would be no exaggeration to say that China, and the movement that its development process encloses, accumulates enough material for us to return to problematize socialism in dialectical terms, within the real and not as an abstract ideal.

Deep down, the question is not to remake what Marx (not) did when the subject is socialism. The problem is finding the present historical form closest to what he once defined as socialism (overcoming the social division of labor, abolition of classes and private property). The price to be paid politically for fixating on archetypes is very high.

It is the price of dodging the reality that we must transform. Which actually the Chinese communists are achieving with great skill. From being the poorest country in the world in 1949 to the end of extreme poverty in a country with geographic peculiarities and regional productivity differentials, it is not just anything. Perhaps it is the greatest achievement in human history in centuries. The result of a political force called the Communist Party, which claims to be in charge of a process they call socialism.

Returning to the question of the nature of the Chinese socio-economic formation. The primary criterion for this is political power. Find some socio-economic formation where political power is committed and has the essential elements to achieve certain objectives. Political power is not expressed in “new social relations of production”. Political power is expressed in new property relations. The banishment of Hegel in the West led to a utopian appropriation of Marxism by Western scholars and Marxists. By putting thought ahead of matter, it is clear that a new society is already born under its own foundations, or advanced social relations in the first hour. When in fact the big question is the material basis that supports political power.

It is a subtle way of denying politics and taking refuge in the Hegelian “concept ruse”. New social relations do not arise outside the framework of public property and this property must have a higher degree of labor productivity than private property. Marx himself warns us about the fact that new social relations do not arise before the productive forces that support them have been exhausted. From the political point of view, imposing new social relations on nonexistent productive forces opens the field to reaction and fascism. But this is another point, which we will be able to focus on at another time, due to its importance.

Many of the problems of socialism stem from this mistaken way of mistaking the cloud for Juno. The role of political power of a new type is to raise the level of the productive forces, to set up a steel wall for their self-defence. The relations of production have an effect relation to this movement. These are interesting points to start thinking about China as a gigantic socialist experiment.

For example, why not think of the large, task-oriented state-mediated large enterprise or business corporation posed by the Communist Party as an interesting historical form of ownership? And how to characterize an economic-social formation where the core of the economy is this type of property (in the Chinese case, 96 state-owned business conglomerates)?

And where is this type of property the generator of accumulation cycles in the economy as opposed to the capitalist-type economic and social formations where the State induces, but the private sector is the generator of these cycles? Wouldn't the possibilities opened up by a power exercised by the Communist Party based on large-scale production and state finance be a historical form aimed at overcoming old forms, based on large private property? Or will we take refuge in the “super-trump” for whom the problems of socialism can be solved, a priori (nothing positivist…) with “workers power” and “democracy”?

Over the past 20 years, China has built around 40 kilometers of high-speed trains. At the same time, disruptive technologies (5G platform, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence) that emerged within the large state-owned business conglomerates have greatly increased the planning capacity of the Chinese State. In other words: the human capacity to intervene in nature has increased, which means a qualitative change in the dominant mode of production in that socio-economic formation with the emergence of new regularities to be deciphered by modern social science. China literally pushes the frontier of the humanities and social sciences forward.

Thinking in scientific terms about the Chinese economic and social formation necessarily involves apprehending the fact that different modes of production cohabit in a true unity of opposites. Socialism as a historical form that takes place in large public property and in planning at a higher level is not alien to the contradictions of a capitalist order that coexist there. Commodity fetish, consumerism, the emergence of billionaires and the precariousness of work are real phenomena, not imaginary ones.

Perhaps it is these contradictions that serve as the engine for the emergence of new political and economic solutions to certain issues. The rise of state regulation over fintechs and the acceleration of purchases of assets from private companies by the State does not only demonstrate political action. Moving means the very emergence of new historical forms of property not foreseen in any textbook.

Ending this brief discussion, there is a question and a brief answer. What is the corresponding historical form of socialism in our time pointed out by the Chinese experience? I have no doubt that raising the capacity to plan the economy and basing planning on the sense of elaborating and executing large projects can be the key that leads us towards a socialism that has a historical form in reason as opposed to capitalist irrationality. Wouldn't we be resurrecting the old Ignacio Rangel and observing in China the emergence of a “New Design Economy”? Is the project of a bridge, viaduct or thousands of high-speed train lines nothing more than an accounting operation or is it not in essence the realization of socialism as the transformation of reason into an instrument of government?

Socialism is a science. And as a science we must face it. Or not?

*Elias Jabbour He is a professor at the Graduate Programs in Economic Sciences and International Relations at UERJ. Author, among other books, of China Today – National Development and Market Socialism Project (Anita Garibaldi).


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