China’s economic achievements are formidable. Today, it is the second biggest economy in the world, well on its way to overtake the US economy at some point in the future. It is but natural that a sense of elation pervades the corridors of power in Beijing.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a respectable think tank, has now come out with a report that says the country’s successes since 1970 have been due to a unique socialism-featured development model. In excerpts of the report, published in the Global Times, a state-run newspaper, it has been claimed that, “China’s success in the past 60 years, especially after the opening-up, has surpassed the achievements of Britain during the industrial revolution and the US’ progress in the 19th century.”
What is being ignored is the political climate in which the Industrial Revolution occurred: Britain already had a parliament and in the US, economic progress went hand-in-hand with political freedom. The result was that the worst excesses of that age—child labour and Dickensian exploitation among others, were vividly highlighted—in literature, in newspapers and even official inquiries.
Has China telescoped these contradictions? Modern authoritarian regimes often like to wipe that slate clean and claim that economic prosperity can substitute political freedom. Very often such rapid growth becomes destabilizing and the political dangers inherent in it—serious inequalities combined with lack of voice—make a volatile mix. In the Chinese case, these contradictions are acute—ruthless exploitation coupled with little respect for property rights in the countryside.
If anything, a Marxist light on China would show it to be an increasingly class-polarized society, far removed from socialism. Evidence from this does not require sifting through income distribution statistics or land record: a cursory examination of the political stand of the government illustrates this very well. The Chinese regime adopts a nationalist posture on almost every dispute with its neighbours. This may be news for some persons, but experienced observers of nationalism pointed this long ago when China went to war with another revolutionary regime: Vietnam in 1979. Hardly the behaviour expected of a socialist country.
Then there is the issue of re-distributing wealth to the poor parts of the countryside. This is happening alongside alienation of land from poor farmers, something that is tactical and not borne of conviction. What is being observed is perhaps better described as “strong growth with Chinese characteristics” and less as socialism.
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