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China’s rise: multipolarity provides a framework for socialist advance

China is not simply looking for world order that gives it more influence but one where every nation's sovereignty will be increased. This is a vision that the left must support in word and deed, seizing every opportunity that it will bring, writes CARLOS MARTINEZ

THE slogan “neither Washington nor Beijing but international socialism” is predicated on the notion that China is an emerging imperialist power and that the struggle between the US and China is an inter-imperialist rivalry.

In this series, I have attempted to prove this assumption incorrect; that the basic character of global politics in the current era is a struggle between the US-led push for its continued hegemony and the China-led push for a multipolar world order.

One key remaining question is whether China’s vision of multipolarity offers any opportunity for global socialist advance. This is not simply a matter of idle curiosity for the radical left.

We are agreed that humanity faces a set of intractable problems that cannot be solved within a framework of capitalism; that eliminating the fundamental contradiction of social production and private appropriation is the sine-qua-non condition for securing humanity’s future.

If there’s a chance that China’s strategy can contribute to the building of a socialist path, it should be studied and taken seriously.

In the 1950s and ’60s, revolutionary China pursued an unambiguously revolutionary anti-imperialist foreign policy, providing crucial support for liberation movements in Vietnam, Algeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

Just a year after the declaration of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army crossed the Yalu River in order to aid the people of Korea against the genocidal war launched by the US and its allies. Three million Chinese fought in that war and an estimated 180,000 lost their lives.

Although the fierce ideological dispute between China and the Soviet Union led to some objectively reactionary positions, for example in Angola and Afghanistan, the guiding principle of Chinese foreign policy was militant anti-imperialism.

In the early 1970s, after over two decades of intense hostility, a window of opportunity opened for improved China-US relations. This laid the ground for China to regain its seat at the UN in 1971 and, at the end of the decade, the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with the US.

With the start of the economic reform in 1978, China urgently sought foreign investment from and trade with south-east Asia, Japan and the US. The need to create a favourable business environment led to the adoption of a “good neighbour policy,” which included dialling down support for leftist armed struggle in Malaysia, Thailand and elsewhere.

Deng Xiaoping’s recommendation to “hide our capabilities and bide our time” meant, in essence, China minding its own business and focusing on its internal development.

Over the last 20-plus years and the last decade in particular, however, China has become more active in its foreign policy, with a strong focus on multipolarity — this is defined by Jenny Clegg in China’s Global Strategy: Towards a Multipolar World as “a pattern of multiple centres of power, all with a certain capacity to influence world affairs, shaping a negotiated order.”

Such a world order is specifically non-hegemonic; it aims to transition from a US-dominated unipolar world order to a more equal system of international relations in which big powers and regional blocs co-operate and compete. The interdependence between the different powers and their comparable levels of strength increases the cost of conflict, thereby promoting peace.

Although the multipolar narrative doesn’t make explicit reference to anti-imperialism, it’s clear that a multipolar world implies the negation of the US hegemonist project for military and economic control of the planet. As such, its basic character is anti-imperialist, which is why it is treated with such contempt in US policy circles; it represents a world that looks very different from “global American leadership.”

The very fact that China exists as a source of investment and finance is a major boost to the countries of the developing world, and, indeed, parts of Europe, which no longer have to accept punishing austerity and privatisation as conditions for emergency loans.

Clegg writes that “developing countries as a whole may find, in the opportunities created by China’s rise, more room for flexibility to follow their own mix of state and market and even to explore the socialist experiments they were forced to abandon by the International Monetary Fund in the 1980s.”

This is an important point. Multipolarity opens a path for greater sovereignty for developing countries; it breaks the stranglehold of the imperialist core  — US, Europe, Japan — over the periphery and, in so doing, “provides the framework for the possible and necessary overcoming of capitalism,” in the memorable words of Samir Amin.

Through forums such as Brics (an international alliance of five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), Focac (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation), China-Celac (Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and others, China is strongly promoting south-south co-operation and helping to advance the interests of the developing world in general.

Clegg notes that “what is at stake with China’s rise is … a real choice over the future model of the international order: the US strategic goal of a unipolar world to uphold and extend existing patterns of exploitation, or a multipolar and democratic one for a more equitable, just and peaceful world.”

For the left to issue “a plague on both these houses” would be nothing short of a farce.

Multipolarity provides crucial opportunities for peace and development and a more favourable context for humanity’s advance towards socialism. If Marxists do indeed “point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality,” they should support the movement towards multipolarity. China is leading this movement and the US is leading the opposition to it.

If there existed a thriving political movement to the left of the Chinese Communist Party which sought to continue China’s progressive global strategy but to reverse the post-Mao market reforms and transition to a system of worker-run co-operatives, for example, Western leftists would have to assess the relative merits of supporting such a movement in its struggle against the CPC government.

But this is sheer fantasy. Opposition to the CPC government in China comes primarily from pro-Western pro-neoliberal elements that seek to undermine socialism and roll back the project of multipolarity.

Meanwhile, Chinese workers and peasants by and large support the government, and why shouldn’t they? In the four decades from 1981, the number of people in China living in internationally defined absolute poverty fell from 850 million to zero. Living standards have consistently improved at all levels of society. Wages are rising, social welfare is improving.

According to an extensive study conducted by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, 93 per cent of Chinese people are satisfied with their central government.

Even former MI6 director of operations and intelligence Nigel Inkster grudgingly admits that “if anything, objective evidence points to growing levels of popular satisfaction within China about their government’s performance.” The basic conditions that inspire people to rise up against their government simply do not prevail.

Regardless of what one thinks of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, anyone on the left must support China against US-led imperialist attacks and the New Cold War.

The prominent Belgian Trotskyist economist Ernest Mandel was by no means a supporter of Soviet socialism, but he insisted firmly that the Soviet Union must be defended against imperialism.

Arguing against Tony Cliff’s slogan of Neither Washington nor Moscow, he wrote: “Why, if it is conceivable to defend the Social Democratic Party against fascism, despite its being led by the Noskes, the assassins of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, is it ‘inconceivable’ to defend the USSR against imperialism?”

Let the latter-day third-campists answer the same question in relation to China.


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