Apologists for Chinese Imperialism

It seems that the magazine Red Front, A Quarterly Political/Economic Journal of Nepal has been published since 2012. Here Volume 5, Issue 2, January 2018 is reviewed. The publication is edited and printed in Nepal but two of its editors, Peter Tobin and Kumar Sarkar, are based in Britain. Nepal is an economically underdeveloped country but not it would seem in the case of printing technology. Red Front is printed in a glossy format, just as good as Vogue. I can practically see my reflection in it. But not all that glitters is gold.

COMMUNIST ORGANISATIONS IN NEPAL

It has been said that Nepal has more gods than it has people. The same might be true in the case of organisations calling themselves “communist” in Nepal. Some clarification is necessary for readers.

The organisation which fought the ten years long People’s War against the Royalist regime was the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) and Baburam Bhattarai. In 2009 it changed its name to Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist). This coincided with the complete abandonment by Prachanda and Bhattarai of the aim of establishing a New Democratic regime in Nepal. In May 2018 the UCPN (M) amalgamated with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) – which had been a fierce opponent of the People’s War – to form the Nepal Communist Party. Members of this party claim that only a bourgeois democratic republic is possible in Nepal at present and they constitute the present Government of Nepal. The members of the NCP has long since abandoned any pretensions to adhering to Marxism-Leninism- Maoism.

COMMUNIST PARTY OF NEPAL

Red Front contains articles by leading members of the Communist Party of Nepal which is not to be confused with the NCP. Represented are Biplav (General Secretary), Prakanda (Standing Committee Member), Kanchan (Standing Committee Member), Hari Roka and Prem Darnal. This reviewer has not been able to find the exact origins of this organisation but presumably it has arisen out of the many fragments thrown off by the CPN(M) during the course of its degeneration. What is of primary importance is the political line being put forward by the CPN. This is somewhat eclectic being, like the curate’s egg, good in parts. None the less the present rulers of Nepal find the CPN somewhat irritating as in August 1918 two of their leaders were arrested and detained for a while when returning from political meetings in India.

Political Line of CPN

The CPN points out that Nepalese society has been undergoing significant large-scale changes during recent decades. Before the People’s War land ownership was mainly feudal but during the war many peasants seized the land they worked and landlords have been selling off land to capitalists who plan to use the land for non-agricultural purposes. This has raised the price of farmland and has increased landlessness among peasants.

Another change has been the considerable growth of middle strata elements, employees of capitalist concerns and numerous NGO’s. This is related to the growing urbanisation of Nepal with a considerable population shift from countryside to town. Rural handicraft production has greatly reduced as a result of the importation of manufactured goods. Nepal is more under the domination of comprador capitalist interests than it was in the past. Indian, American and European capitalists are increasing their domination of Nepal. The principal contradiction in Nepal is now between the forces of comprador parliamentary capitalists and the people.

The CPN is critical of the analysis put forward by Kiran (Mohan Baidya) of the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist) – another fragment of the CPN(M) – which they consider to be somewhat outdated as not taking account of recent economic and social changes. Kiran claims that Nepal is still a semi-feudal/colonial country whereas now the CPN say that it is a comprador capitalist, neo-colonial social formation. This is not simply a terminological quibble but refers to real, politically significant factors which must be taken into account in any viable revolutionary strategy. In these respects the CPN’s analysis may well be correct.

The CPN is quite clear that as regards the present political system in Nepal “all the long-suffering Nepalese have gained is a comprador Republic based on Western style parliamentary system.” It rejects participating in elections under the present system. It says that “we have concluded that neither Leninist insurrection, nor Maoist Protracted People’s War is sufficient to meet our distinct revolutionary necessities, and therefore our line is for ‘Unified People’s Revolution’ in Nepal.”

From the material in this issue of Red Front it is not clear just what is meant by ‘Unified People’s Revolution’. What is said is that “only armed struggle can ensure working class victory.” with which all genuine Maoists would agree.

The Question of Armed Struggle

The People’s War in Nepal was a very successful armed struggle which fought the Royalist Army to a position of strategic equilibrium. The people endured great suffering and suffered many losses. The failure of the CPN(M) under the Prachanda/Bhattarai leadership to carry forward the struggle after their success in the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008 was a great betrayal. This reviewer was in Khatmandu and Pokhara in November 2008 and personally witnessed the preparations being made, especially by the Young Communist League, for armed uprising within these cities. The People’s Liberation Army had claimed that they had insufficient forces to take these urban centres by means of frontal assaults. But as it became clear that attempts by the CPN(M) led government to push through measures conducive to establishing New Democracy were being blocked, the call for the People’s Liberation Army to remobilise and for paramilitary elements in urban areas to get ready never came. The Prachanda/Bhattarai clique had sold out the revolution. As the CPN point out, the capitulation of this leading element to comprador bourgeois and imperialist forces and not even achieving some very minimalist reforms brought about mass disillusion with the revolutionary project.

The CPN are correct in saying that it is no good to dogmatically stick to mechanically copying previous experiences of revolutionary upheaval. Obviously the strategy and tactics of people’s war needs to be adapted to the concrete circumstances of a particular country at a particular time. But in the case of Nepal there is one big problem to be overcome. That is the fact that a high level people’s war was waged but had no positive outcome because of betrayal by its leaders. Experience in a number of countries strongly suggests that in such circumstances the people are very reluctant to take up the gun again. Whether or not the CPN is making any real preparations or not to take up armed struggle is not known to this reviewer. But it’s not going to be easy.

INTERNATIONAL LINE OF CPN

The CPN’s analysis of imperialism today is somewhat confused. They point out the characteristics of imperialism have changed a lot since Lenin made his analysis a century ago; “imperialism in the twenty-first century is a qualitatively different phenomenon from that of the twentieth.” They say, “We therefore refer to the present period as one of post-imperialist capitalism.”

At the same time the CPN says that India is no longer simply “expansionist” but “is now fully imperialist”. Indeed it claims that the Indian state had a lot to do with the betrayal of the revolution, “the Prachanda/Bhatterai clique around 2000 accepted that hegemonic Indian encirclement was invincible and thus began plotting with New Delhi to betray our revolution.” The CPN seems to think that the Indian state played the major role in sabotaging the Nepalese revolution. It is true that others, particularly the United Nations and the USA also had fingers in this pie. Of course, Nepal has long been economically disadvantaged by unequal trade agreements with India.

Is India imperialist?

While itself subject to much exploitation by multinational companies based in imperialist countries such as America and Britain, e.g mining company Vedanta, it is also the case that Indian-owned companies have large investments in imperialist countries. For example, in Britain there are Tata Steel, which owns most of British-based steel production, and Jaguar Landrover producing cars. Eight hundred Indian-owned companies are operating within the UK. India is one of the sub-imperialist BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – which while subject to imperialist exploitation are themselves engaged in exporting capital to invest abroad including in the long-established imperialist heartlands. There is nothing new about firms in one imperialist country investing in another imperialist country. One criticism which has been made of Lenin’s original analysis of modern imperialism being the export of capital from developed capitalist countries to underdeveloped countries is that at that time, in the early twentieth century, the then imperialist countries were investing far more capital in each other than they were in the oppressed countries. India is not yet a full-blown imperialist country in the way that America and Britain are. Although it has nuclear weapons it has limited military capacity to back up its overseas ambitions. Just how powerful it becomes with respect to more developed imperialist countries remains to be seen.

China, Korea and Cuba

The CPN says, “ … in international relations we have stated the wish to maintain deep friendship and solidarity with the socialist states of China, Korea and Cuba.”

From a Maoist point of view the “socialist” character of the regimes in these countries is highly questionable. Throughout the history of the Castro regime Maoists have disputed its claim to be socialist. As for North Korea (DPRK), while it once may have been on the socialist road its character appears to have changed to something more like fascism. In the case of China the mainstream of Maoism have characterised it as having been undergoing capitalist restoration ever since the death of Mao in 1976. (Here I will only discuss the case of China.)

THE CASE OF CHINA

This current issue of Red Front contains two articles which can help us to decide whether China is socialist or not. One is ‘Firmly Advancing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ by Wang Weiguang, Communist Party of China Central Committee Member and President of the Chinese Academy of Social Science. (The article is accompanied by a picture of Wang in his business suit.)

Wang tells us that “under the leadership of Comrade Mao Zedong, the Communist Party of China, relying on the people, completed the task of the socialist revolution, established the basic system of socialism, …”

However “The lack of practical experience and theoretical preparation and the incorrect judgment of the international and domestic situations resulted in Comrade Mao Zedong’s serious mistakes …”

and:

we should make a correct distinction between Mao Zedong Thought and the mistakes Comrade Mao Zedong made in his declining years.”

Certainly Mao Zedong Thought (or Maoism as it is now called) is not the same thing as the totality of what Mao had to say and write about this and that. Rather it is the concentrated expression of the theory and practice of the experience of the Chinese people in the course of making revolution as summed up by Mao and others. During Mao’s time the Communist Party of China made this distinction very clear. As Stalin said, “The only place you don’t make any mistakes is the graveyard”. Yes, of course Mao made some mistakes.

Wang tells us that the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China adopted by the 6th. Plenary Session of the 11th. Central Committee of the CPC realistically evaluated the historical role of Comrade Mao Zedong …”

What this resolution does is to seriously criticise Mao’s struggles against right deviations and capitalist roaders from 1956 onwards and completely rejects the theory and practice of the Cultural Revolution. Thus a considerable part of what came to be known as ‘Mao Tse-tung Thought’ is thrown out. The intellectual sleight of hand being employed here is to reject the parts of the theory and practice developed by Mao and his comrades which capitalist roaders don’t like and claim that they are deviations from Mao Tse-tung Thought.

CHINA’S CURRENT NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT POLICY

This issue of Red Front includes a report by Red Front Desk on the speech delivered by Xi Jinping (President of the People’s Republic of China and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) at the 19th. National Congress of the CPC. (Poor Xi Jinping. He seems to be doubling up doing two big jobs. Also this Congress removed the limit in the Chinese Constitution on the number of terms a president can serve thus allowing XI to continue indefinitely if he wishes. Is there no one else capable of taking on this position?.)

It says “Xi referred to this as a stage in “developing modern socialism”.” Beijing he said has no territorial or political global ambitions. But then Xi goes on to say:

There are two aspects driving the policy of domestic prosperity:

Firstly; the huge ambition behind the One-Belt One Road scheme building new Silk Route that would extend from Asia initially then through Europe, Middle-East and Africa.

He further said that 300 billion Yuns (sic) would be allocated to Chinese businessmen who invested in foreign countries linked to One Belt One Route Programme.

The Chinese President pointed out that China and Asia should jointly prepare a structure to create a global economy.”

And:

China’s growing global stature was reinforced and Xi defended globalisation and international cooperation by criticising current regression into protectionism and isolationism.

Also accepted is end of unipolar world under American hegemony with emergence of multi-polar geopolitical balance of power based on China’s friendship and identity interests within the revived Russian Federation.

Therefore the People’s Liberation Army is to be substantially modernised as important element for projecting China’s new found status with aim of creating a “world-class” military that can fight and win wars.”

This is a pretty clear, upfront statement that China’s future depends upon a policy of worldwide economic expansion backed up by strong military force. I believe that this sort of state policy is usually referred to as “imperialism”.

To be fair, Red Front Desk say:

Some supporters of Xi’s Party argue that this Congress continues the Dengite line after 1978 and has roots in the ‘capitalist road’ promoted by Liu Shaoqi, prior to his downfall in the Cultural Revolution.” But they go on to point out that “Xi Jinping, who arising from this speech has been accorded the ultimate accolade of establishing a distinct “Xi Jinping-Thought” …” So now we have “Marxism-Leninism- Mao Zedong- Xi Jinping Thought”! Red Front Desk tell us that “Presently, supporters of present CCP line are ascendant …”.

IS CHINA SOCIALIST?

In order to determine whether or not a country is “socialist” we need to have a clear conception of what we mean by this term. Here is a brief definition as it has emerged from the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary stream:

Socialism is the period of transition between capitalism and communism. It is where the working class and its allies have taken power from the capitalist class by establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat with the objectives of socialising the means of production, developing the forces of production and thus progressively abolishing class divisions. This would bring about the withering away of the state which leads onto the establishment of communism which can only be achieved on a world-wide basis.’

The first point to be made is that when the likes of Wang Weiguang and Xi Jinping talk about “socialism” they see it as a permanent state of affairs rather that a dynamic transitional state heading in the direction of communism. The latter term is one they avoid using. Xi talks about “developing modern socialism” which is a euphemism for developing capitalism. China’s economy was developing rapidly during Mao’s time, as indicated by contemporary CIA analysis and even Wang says, “in the Cultural Revolution, China witnessed a tremendous progress in socialist construction: the grain production maintained steady growth …”. During this period a country which had experienced periodic famine became self-sufficient in food production. This is no longer the case. Yes, there has been a tremendous growth in the forces of production during the last forty years but of a kind which primarily serves to bolster capitalist profits rather than meeting the real material needs of the mass of the people. China is now a big importer of food stuffs.

There is not a dictatorship of the proletariat in China now but rather a dictatorship of the state capitalist class, smartly clad in their business suits. Previously state-owned industrial and commercial concerns have been progressively privatised and the workers have had to resort to taking industrial action to try to defend their wages and conditions of employment. The people’s communes were broken up into family plots. Many of these are not economically viable with the consequence that impoverished peasants are forced into selling their land to capitalist interests. The great majority of the population do not own the means of production. In 1976 China was probably the most equal country in the world. Now the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences boasts that it is probably the most unequal country in the world. Class divisions are not diminishing but widening and and sharpening.

If we consider China today then it is obviously not the working class and peasantry who are exercising power. Rather it is the top officials in the CPC and the new class of “red capitalists” who are in command. The Cultural Revolution was an unsuccessful attempt to arouse the workers and peasants to depose the capitalist roaders in the CPC and take command. It did not succeed.

People calling themselves Marxists, Marxist-Leninists and even Maoists who claim that China is still on the socialist road simply have no built-in shit detectors.

Language and Ideology

One interesting aspect of the Chinese tragedy is the linguistic contortions it produces. The present ruling class of China legitimises itself by claiming to be continuing the process of revolutionary transformation begun by the Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung. As has been pointed out, nothing could be further from the truth and the process of capitalist restoration is very far advanced. Only a new revolutionary upheaval could get China back on the socialist road. Yet by continuing to claim that they are adhering to Mao Tse-tung Thought the new capitalist leaders hope that the Chinese people will support them. If they openly and outrightly denounce China’s communist past then they would probably stir up the growing discontent among large sections of the Chinese people.

This phenomenon whereby what starts out as the ideology of oppressed groups in society is transformed into the legitimating ideology of a ruling class has happened before. In the Roman Empire a religion which started out among slaves and oppressed national groups, Christianity, was transformed over a period of three hundred years into the state religion of the ruling class in this slave society even though much of its rhetoric remained unchanged. In the case of China this process has taken only forty years. Perhaps this is not so surprising when one considers the enormous gap between liberal democratic ideology in Britain and America and the monopoly capitalist social reality it purports to represent and justify. Struggles over the meaning of words are part of the struggle to either change social reality or keep it the same.

IS CHINA IMPERIALIST?

It has already been suggested that Xi Jinping’s plan for China’s future development is blatantly imperialist. In Red Front Prof. Dr. Pitambar Sharma puts forward a ‘Nepali Perspective on Belt & Road Initiative’. Sharma tells us that, “It is a long-term, bold and ambitious pan-continental initiative that seeks to connect China with the rest of Asia, Western Europe and Africa. It heralds a new stage in China’s development. It is also a novel and multi-dimensional strategy for strengthening regional and international cooperation and laying the groundwork for the path to sustained economic growth.” This article is illustrated with a map showing tentacle-like tendrils extending out from China over Asia and towards Europe and Africa.

The main emphasis of BRI is on the development of infrastructure projects, especially the improvement of transport links, to be financed by large loans from the Chinese Government and Chinese firms. China has a massive amount of surplus capital generated by the rapid economic growth of the Chinese economy and the very high savings rate of the Chinese people. So what is happening here is the export of Chinese capital to other countries, exactly the sort of thing Lenin was talking about in his analysis of imperialism one hundred years ago. Indeed, the European imperialist powers – Britain, France, Germany, etc. – claimed that they were bringing “progress” and civilisation to the colonies they had grabbed, particulary in Africa. Already some of the target countries are beginning to have doubts about this scheme. The Malaysian Government has been cancelling some of the contracts it signed up to and the new government in Pakistan is concerned about the level of debts which have been taken on.

Sharma tells us “BRI can open up the Himilayan barrier by road and rail and add an altogether new dimension to regional connectivity. In the long run, if and when India joins in, BRI can facilitate India’s trade with China and Central Asia and at the same time provide China with the access to the large Indian market in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the most populous states in India.”

Furthermore Sharma says, “Nepal has an abundance of hydropower in terms of potential. A number of relatively large projects … have already been contracted to Chinese companies …”.

From the point of view of China the desired outcome from BRI is its connectivity with India or the creation of an India-Nepal-China or INC corridor.”

In his article Sharma is suggesting that because Nepal is a relatively small country compared with its very large neighbours it has no choice except to hitch its wagon to Chinese imperialism if it is to bring about economic development. Nepal is not that small relatively speaking. Its land area is about forty per cent of that of the United Kingdom and its population about forty-five percent of that of the UK. What is more, its mountainous terrain makes it difficult to invade and relatively easy to defend. Switzerland is a small country compared with its neighbours yet it has maintained its independence and is very economically developed. Nepal does not have to throw itself at the mercy of Chinese imperialism.

Chinese economic penetration of Africa is very extensive with over 10,000 Chinese owned firms operating there. There is much Chinese-operated mineral extraction especially on the eastern side of the continent. Chinese investments in Britain are very considerable especially in financial concerns, e.g. Barclays Bank, and in property, especially in London. Perhaps Chinese red capitalists are trying to alleviate the chronic housing problems in London by investing in luxury apartments.

The Case of Tibet

Red Front contains an article by Peter Tobin, ‘Dalai Lama: Buddhism Defamed’. The author correctly shows what a reactionary, feudal society Tibet was in the past. It certainly was not some sort of hippy Nirvana as some Westerners believe. Its people suffered the most severe oppression and exploitation.

For many centuries Tibet was under the suzerainty of the Chinese emperors but this fell into abeyance after the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912. After that the British Raj made some attempts to secure hegemony over Tibet and then in 1950-51, following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army occupied the country. The immediate reason for this action was that the Korean War had begun and the Chinese Government and its allies feared the possibility of being attacked in the rear by British and American armed forces. The occupation of Tibet cannot be justified by the fact that it had been subject to Chinese suzerainty in the past. The same had been true of Korea and Vietnam but this could not justify a reassertion of Chinese dominance. In the circumstances it was arguably in the objective interests of the Tibetan people that Chinese rule continued after the immediate threat of imperialist occupation had passed.

From the nineteen fifties onwards Tibet as an autonomous part of the Chinese state underwent considerable development and transformation; economic, social, cultural and political. Of course, there was some resistance from reactionary elements, including an armed uprising in 1959, but the living conditions of the Tibetans greatly improved during this period. But in recent decades, under the post-Mao regime, there have been some significant changes. A policy of encouraging mass migration by Han (Chinese) people from the eastern parts of China has been pursued. This has been particularly directed at urban areas such as Llasa and has tended to overwhelm Tibetans both economically and culturally. Peasant farmers have been losing their land as it is taken over for commerial and industrial development. There have been popular demonstrations against this policy of Sinification.

This approach towards national minorities in the post-Mao period is very different from what went before. Then the CPC was very aware of the disadvantages national minority peoples had suffered as a result of Great Han chauvinism. There were policies to improve and protect the ability of minorities to preserve and develop their distinct cultures and this included the Tibetans. But in his article Peter Tobin ignores the abandonment of of this political line. Other national minorities within the territory of the Chinese state are also under attack, e.g. Uighars in Xinjiang. Tobin is trying to whitewash this aspect of Chinese imperialism by ignoring the radical change in policy towards Tibet.

CONCLUSIONS

This issue of Red Front strongly suggests that the so-called Communist Party of Nepal is at best highly confused about the real character of Chinese state policy towards Nepal and at worse could be a conscious agent of Chinese imperialism.

As for the CPN’s foreign associates, such as Kumar Sarkar and Peter Tobin, they should give serious critical consideration to their claims that China is still on the socialist road. To continue to put forward this erroneous position spreads confusion among revolutionary-minded people attracted towards Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and undermines the struggle to rebuild an effective revolutionary movement.

Harry Powell October 2018

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