the chinese experiment

Image: Steve Johnson


Deciphering China is the greatest intellectual challenge facing Marxist intellectuals today.

I have been writing for years about the need for a new range of concepts, categories and notions capable of synthesizing the real movement generated by a rapid and long development process, which has lasted four decades. More recently, I have come to the conclusion that, given the widespread failure of financialization and the ready ability to face and overcome the pandemic in China, it is past time for Western social scientists to abandon caricatures and observe with more determination and seriousness that experiment that can be condensed in the most advanced social engineering in the world today.

In summary: deciphering China is the greatest intellectual challenge posed to Marxist intellectuals today. I have modestly tried to contribute to this debate. Actually, I don't want to reinvent the wheel. Far from it. I always make it clear that at least two points are of fundamental importance in this task: (1) historical materialism is the guiding thread that will give us this new theoretical background and (2) we must assume in the West that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” it is not something floating in the air, hollow or meaningless. On the contrary, it is a totalizing system that materializes 100 years of solutions to practical problems historically posed by the Chinese communist movement. Theory and history go together. Thought is the product of matter, not its opposite.

The current challenge lies in how the social sciences must face a constantly changing reality. Some questions. What, for example, is the impact on economic theory of the entry of over 400 million people into the so-called middle class over the next five years? I am convinced that conventional orthodox and heterodox theories have lost the ability to “take the whole for the part”. The time has come when the current framework can only “take the part for the whole”.

This movement from losing theoretical validation to understanding dynamic phenomena is almost natural to theories that emerge to mirror the realities of specific modes of production. See the structuralist theories (whether Latin American or those of Anglo-Saxon inspiration), the “Developmental State” and the current fashion around the so-called “Entrepreneurial State” (something that says everything and nothing at the same time). None of these contributions are capable of giving us the “universal in the particular” when it comes to China. I include in this list many theories of historical and Marxist inspiration.

And Marxism? To me Marxism has a universal character that cannot be found in the theories of Keynes, Schumpeter and other geniuses of economics. Hence, China, and the movement that emanates from its development process, are sufficient not only to challenge Marxists to leave the comfort zone of what Hegel called the “concept ruse”, but also to build an understanding of socialism less idealist and positivist. The list of concepts constructed by Marxism places it on the same level as the giants of classical Greek philosophy and Hegel. But it is not a dogma either. Our starting point for a more accurate understanding of China and its current stage is a Marxist concept that serves as an “autoimmunizer” in the face of the seduction of models, ready-made schemes and the checklists positivists that prevail in Western academic Marxism.

The concept of socio-economic formation, due to its character of totality, is the most efficient weapon in the search for the “universal in the particular” that the great theories of economic development are incapable of capturing given the generalizing nature of ALL these theories. A theory of the current Chinese social-economic formation or a political economy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” will take us on a historical journey through the fundamental points that indicate that in 1978 a new class of social-economic formations emerges in China.

The discovery, on our part, of some “general laws of motion” of this new socio-economic formation has conditioned us to perceive another historical phenomenon that has become the main theoretical challenge imposed on Marxists today. The question we are answering in our research agenda is not a simple one: what are the new economic regularities emerging from the increase in human capacity to dominate nature in China? What is the role of disruptive technological innovations in this process, which could necessarily lead to the emergence of a higher-level mode of production in the country?

The profound distributional impacts that recent policies to regulate bigtechs e fintechs might incur would it not be a manifestation of institutional changes that seek to put production relations in line with the level of development achieved by the productive forces in China?

The “New Design Economy”[1] it is just an initial step towards understanding this complex whole. We are crawling. But certain that we are opening a particular path of interpretation that tries to escape the deep crisis that affects the social sciences in general and Marxism in particular in the West. By our side, the barriers imposed by the greatest philosophy that the bourgeoisie can create, positivism, were not overcome. Hegel was not reached in the West, with rare exceptions in the capitalist periphery. Hence the naturalization of vulgar definitions of the Chinese system: the pleonasms of “state capitalism” and more recently “surveillance capitalism” are widely circulated in so-called “Marxist” circles. The crisis of thought is profound.

*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).

Originally published on GGN newspaper .


[1] On the “New Design Economy” read: JABBOUR, E.; DANTAS, A. “Ignacio Rangel in China and the “'New Design Economy'”.Economy and Society, v. 31, no. 2, p. 287–310, 2021. Available at:

JABBOUR, E.; DANTAS, A.; ESPÍNDOLA, C.; VELOZZO, J “The (New) Design Economy: the concept and its determinations in China today. The geos. v. 35, no. 77, p. 17-48, 2020. Available at:

JABBOUR, E.; DANTAS, A.; ESPÍNDOLA, C. “Initial considerations on the 'New Design Economy'. The geos. v. 35, no. 75, p. 17-42, 2020. Available at:


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