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The international China and Marxism symposium in Istanbul

ON A stormy and rainy weekend in Istanbul last month, an international symposium entitled China and Marxism was organised by the Teori ve Politika (Theory and Politics) magazine. The symposium aimed to understand and discuss Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and the Communist Party of China (CPC’s) approach to Marxism, featuring a total of 16 papers in four languages. 

The opening speeches were delivered by 90-year-old Korkut Boratav, one of Turkey’s most prominent Marxist economists, and Qian Xinyi, the Undersecretary of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Boratav expressed that the most prevalent form of the relations of production in Chinese society is capitalist, but questioned whether these are dominant relations due to the established forms of public ownership surrounding them. 

He stated that the future cannot be guaranteed but emphasised that the bourgeoisie does not hold power in China and their attempts to seize power have been thwarted by the CPC. Qian Xinyi highlighted that Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is a natural outcome of China’s particular conditions.

In the first session, Marxism’s Conception of Socialism and China, speakers including Professor Tang Ming from the Central China Normal University, Carlos Martinez from Friends of Socialist China, Sungur Savran from Revolutionary Marxism, and Metin Kayaoğlu from the Teori ve Politika magazine presented their papers. 

Tang Ming divided China’s socialist transformation into two periods: Mao, and Deng and post-Deng periods. Savran emphasised that the biggest challenge that led to the collapse of really existing socialisms in the 20th century was the corruption that developed around the swelling bureaucratic class and that the same challenge is being faced today in China. 

Martinez compared China’s reform and opening-up with perestroika and glasnost, highlighting the significant differences between the USSR and China in economic (dramatic and continual improvement in the living standards of the Chinese people), political (not allowing the capitalists to organise as a class) and geostrategic (long period of peace and security) aspects. 

Kayaoğlu pointed out different approaches within Marxist literature regarding the relationship between productive forces and relations of production referencing Lenin and Kautsky and made precise that despite the autonomy of political forces, the laws of the production maintain themselves.

In the second session, Economy, Politics, and Society in China, speakers including Fatih Oktay from Özyeğin University, Chen Feng from Shandong University — School of Marxism, Jülide Yazıcı from the Teori ve Politika magazine, and Hu Zongshan from Central China Normal University presented their papers. 

Oktay provided a brief and clear presentation on the history of China’s reform, emphasising the need for stronger steps toward a socialist formation to ensure the country’s socialist future. Dr Chen Feng stated that the development of rural areas is one of the most important tasks for China as a modern socialist country. Yazıcı argued that CPC is leading an experiment of transition from capitalism to advanced socialism, that it is inevitable in a transition period that certain capitalistic mechanisms maintain themselves, and that what is important is the CPC’s ideological and political insistence on Marxism. Hu Zongshan diagnosed three challenges ahead of China's modernisation: the Two Huangs Trap related to national governance, yhe Middle Income Trap, and the Thucydides Trap.

In the third session, China in the World, speakers including Çağdaş Üngör from Marmara University, historian Kamuran Kızlak, historian Vijay Prashad from TriContinental, and Mehmet Yılmazer from the Yol magazine delivered their speeches. 

Üngör discussed whether the China model could be exported to the world, attributing the interest in China to the quest that emerged in the world following the 2008 crisis. Kızlak provided an informative presentation on China, the US and Soviet relations during the reform era, concluding with a focus on the CPC’s conception of Confucianism. Prashad, questioning Biden’s rhetoric of “Chinese aggression,” highlighted that Nato forces in the Asia-Pacific are more aggressive in foreign policy, and that China, unlike the United States, has adopted a no-first-use nuclear policy which means that China will not fire a nuclear weapon before anybody else. 

Yılmazer emphasised that the US strategy focuses on preventing the strengthening of Russia-Europe relations, hindering the development of Russia-China relations, and limiting China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific.

In the continued session with the same title, speakers including Azad Barış from HEDEP (People’s Equality and Democracy Party), Yu Weihai, Director of the Central China Normal University, Ben Chacko from the Morning Star newspaper and Maher Al-Taher from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, presented their talks. 

Azad Barış stated that in the new world order, there are no clear boundaries between ideologies, and China’s success against imperialism strengthens the struggles of oppressed peoples. 

Yu Weihai highlighted the dramatic change in the internationalist movement after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to a more pluralistic, independent, diverse, and egalitarian organisation of international movements. Chacko stated that challenging the narrative that China poses a threat to the global order requires demolishing lies about China posing a military or security threat to the West and examining whether China's rise is that of a new aspiring hegemon wanting to replace the US. 

Maher Al-Taher, welcomed with strong solidarity feelings, argued that the perception of Marxism as a dogmatic and unchangeable whole is wrong, emphasising the need to deepen Marxism in the specificity of each country and that Chinese experience is a creative example of this.

In the closing speech, Elif Nur Aybaş from the Teori ve Politika magazine reminded us that the critique of Eurocentrism in the 20th century provided an opportunity to recognise the political agency of oppressed peoples. 

She expressed a preference for considering the Chinese experience as a critique of Eurocentrism from within Marxism, and emphasized that Marxists in other parts of the world have the duty of learning from this experience. Teori ve Poltika announced that the video recordings of the symposium will be made available for viewing in the near future, and the speeches will also be published as a book.


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