Trip to China: an annotated report

Thomas Allom, West Gate of Beijing, c. 1850.

Presentation of the recently released book by Markus Sokol

Much is written and talked about today's China, but reports made from the perspective of a political leader are rare. Markus Sokol, member of the National Executive of the Workers' Party, was part of a delegation that visited China over 10 days, in June 2023. The PT's relations with the Communist Party of China (CCP) have not always been smooth, but today have changed. In 1989, an entire generation was impacted by the massacre of students in Tiananmen Square, which would subsequently lead to the rupture, for a few years, of the PT's relations with the CCP. But today's China, its thriving economy, its intense trade with Brazil in particular, the imperialist pressures from the USA, have changed and pose new questions and challenges not only for the PT, but for the current relations between the Brazilian economy and society. and Chinese. This alone highlights the importance of the questions raised by this book.

Markus Sokol invites us to accompany him on his trip to China, but this is not a trivial story. It makes us move through time and space, through places and history, through text and images. It is possible to notice this movement many times, through his observant gaze recorded with reports of conversations, photos and images during his visits to the different places visited. An apparently insignificant photo taken in a store shows a father in Tibetan clothing with a son dressed as a Western child. This allows Sokol to take a deep dive into the country's economic, social and cultural dilemmas and contradictions, and even into the history of this China that we know little about. And this is repeated all along the way, transforming what would be a travel report into a challenging itinerary to understand the great Asian country, its history and the great economic and political controversies of the struggle for socialism, which led the working class to transform contemporary China.

This immense country, which carried out one of the great revolutions of the 1949th century with the victory of 1917, carries in its modernity the combination of its ancient cultural and social traditions, the history of struggles of the Chinese people for their national sovereignty after the invasion of the capitalist powers. since the 4th century, and the role of its working class in building resistance impacted by the victory of the Russian revolution of October XNUMX. But this path is marked by many contradictions. Sokol delves several times into the historical struggles of the labor movement and Chinese communism in search of answers. He recovers the forgotten trajectory and place of one of the main founders of the CCP, Chen Duxiu, later also leader of the first section of the XNUMXth International in China, almost forgotten in the party's history, always seeking to recover these paths.

Where is the Chinese working class and its conquered power? Many activists today ask themselves, in the PT and outside, whether China has a socialist economy and whether it would be a reference for the current struggles of the working class. This question runs through the entire book and is, after all, one of the biggest questions under debate. And if China is a socialist country, as many claim, how does the working class exercise its power? Sokol tries to find throughout the trip, in the walks through the streets and cities and in the various meetings meticulously prepared by the CCP, in the lunches and meetings with local leaders, in the rare moments of debate, some more visible signs of this working class or, at least, of this Chinese people in their exercise of power and record: “in 10 days we didn't go to a house, in the countryside or in the city, nor to the factories, only the boards…”. Does the state-party fusion as a characteristic of the regime, something probably little taken into consideration even within the PT, allow the full exercise of democracy by the working class? The difficult direct contact with Chinese people doesn't seem to be just because of language barriers, after all.

Sokol does not hesitate to inform and outline the controversies necessary for a current lucid debate on China. Chinese workers live in working conditions that can shock the most sincere or unsuspecting socialist activists in Brazil. The constant strikes and struggles without the existence of free unions, the exclusion of the right to strike from the Chinese Constitution, long weekly working hours, low wages, restricted vacation rights and limitations on retirement, express some examples of the harsh living conditions faced by hundreds of millions are submitted. And there are no completely free universities in China, as many imagine, although even secondary education is free.

All of this occurs, side by side with the accumulation of the fortunes of the new millionaires who are multiplying across the country. Chinese companies exploit their workers, there is class struggle and capital accumulation inside and outside the country. And a Chinese bourgeoisie prospers, at the same time as it has representation within the Communist Party itself. Sokol records the luxurious images of large Chinese corporations and poses many questions for reflection, as he records a booming capitalism combined with a one-party regime.

At the same time that the CCP is embedded in all the country's institutions – and Sokol does not fail to record the activities that a communist cell carries out in his locality – there is an increasingly profound cultural Westernization in the daily lives of the population. Once again, it is the attentive eye that often captures in the small gesture of customs and habits, in clothes and trivial objects in decorations, and even in a small everyday artifact, the absence or increasing rarity of themes from the deepest Chinese culture. It is the homogenizing movement of the world market that seeks to standardize all production, in all spheres of life. His shrewd look manages to capture on the surface, seemingly unimportant, the great contradictions in the construction of China's current society and perhaps a supposed “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

New challenges appear in the characterization of Brics and the new Silk Road, as part of a new Chinese international policy of commercial expansion and market disputes, but not only. Chinese economic planning and the famous five-year plans, a legacy of socialist economic planning, born in the Soviet Union as an alternative to the anarchy of the capitalist market economy, and which are mentioned throughout the text, explain the phenomenal take-off of the Chinese economy since the 1950s, and even more so in the 80s. But since then, has it been socialism or the market economy and capitalism that have gained strength in China? Is it possible that a future new political and economic symbiosis is in the works in China? It is a hypothesis launched by Sokol and it is necessary to reflect, the answers are not ready.

The challenge of the struggle for socialism, which means the expropriation by the working class of private ownership of the means of production and the expansion of rights for the working class throughout the world, are connected with an understanding, as broad and deep as possible, of what happens in this country. The book is an invitation to dialogue and without avoiding complex and difficult topics, it leaves the doors open for a necessary debate.

*Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade is a professor at the Department of History at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Bolivia: democracy and revolution. The Commune of La Paz, 1971 (Avenue).


Markus Sokol. Trip to China: an annotated report. Editora Nova Palavra: 2023.

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