When the Communist Party of China came to power in 1949, China, despite its splendid and ancient culture and civilisation, was one of the poorest and most wretched societies on earth. Millions perished from starvation, life expectancy was in the low 30s, illiteracy and disease were all pervasive, women were subjected to excruciatingly painful foot binding and a whole host of feudal oppressions.
The cause of China’s misery was feudalism, warlordism and bureaucrat capitalism. But above all it was imperialism. Here is what Malcolm X had to say:
â€œThose original white ‘Christian traders’ sent into China millions of pounds of opium. By 1839, so many of the Chinese were addicts that China’s desperate government destroyed twenty thousand chests of opium. The first Opium War was promptly declared by the white man. Imagine! Declaring war upon someone who objects to being narcotised! The Chinese were severely beaten with Chinese invented gunpowder. The Treaty of Nanking made China pay the British white man for the
destroyed opium; forced open China’s major ports to British trade; forced China to abandon Hong Kong; fixed China’s import tariffs so low that cheap British articles soon flooded in, maiming China’s industrial development. After a second Opium War, the Tientsin Treaties legalised the ravaging opium trade, legalised a British- French-American control of China’s customs. China tried delaying that Treaty’s ratification; Peking was looted and burned.â€
There in a pithy, succinct summary is a little of what imperialism did to China. But of course it was very profitable for imperialism. One historian wrote that the biggest financial blow ever suffered by British capitalism in a single day was when the People’s Liberation Army entered Shanghai.
With the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese people had lifted from their shoulders what Chairman Mao had aptly described as the three great mountains that weighed as a heavy burden on them â€“ imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.
Over the ensuing 59 years, we know that it has not been plain sailing. Some big mistakes have been made. More will be made in the future, too. But what we have to be absolutely clear about is that the mistakes are secondary and the achievements are primary. That without the People’s Republic led by the Communist Party, not only the Chinese people but people in every part of the world would be immeasurably worse off.
Under the leadership of Mao and his comrades in the first generation of the collective leadership of the PRC, China, a quarter of humanity, banished famine, solved the basic problem of feeding, clothing, educating and housing the people on the basis of self-reliance, developed its own nuclear deterrent, launched space satellites, provided a framework of basic medical care to a peasantry that had never known it through the barefoot doctor system, and provided massive support to people throughout the world in their struggles against imperialism, not least in Korea and Vietnam.
Over the last 30 years, the succeeding generations of Mao’s successors have built on those foundations. During those three decades, China has registered double digit economic growth almost every year. No other economy in the world can compare with this. 400 million people have been lifted out of poverty. The effects of this are felt not only in China. Today, economies throughout Africa and Latin America are reversing a generation of decline and entering onto a path of growth largely because of their engagement with China’s booming economy.
The imperialist media never tires of attacking China over its so-called â€œhuman rights violationsâ€. But in the contemporary world, no greater contribution is being made to the enhancement of the real human rights of hundreds of millions of people than is being made by the Chinese government and the CPC.
There are a lot of people on the left â€“ largely, it must be said, people who themselves have made not a single positive contribution to the cause of socialism in this or any other country â€“ who will tell you that China today is a capitalist country.
Let’s be clear â€“ the international bourgeoisie is much more realistic. It suffers from no such illusion. That is why the 2006 Quadriennial Defence Review published by the Pentagon again asserted that China was the biggest potential long term challenge to US global interests.
What is meant by this?
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq in the first Gulf War, in 1993 the International Herald Tribune reported:
â€œIn a broad new policy statement the Defence Department asserts that the US political and military mission in the post cold war era will be to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territory of the former Soviet Union. The draft takes the position that ‘no collection of nations can aspire to regional dominance because that would put them on the path to global rivalry with the American super-power’. The classified document makes the case for a world dominated by one super-power. The new draft sketches a world in which there is one dominant military power whose leaders ‘must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.’â€
That is the essence of US policy. No other country should be allowed to even aspire to being able to challenge or stand up to its hegemony. What the United States has done and is doing in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan is just a rehearsal for what it seeks to do in Russia and above all in China.
As the Pentagon grasps, even if much of the British left does not, it is the rise of China that poses the greatest challenge to the US design for global hegemony.
Let’s think about the changed situation in Latin America. For years, brave but tiny socialist Cuba stood alone. Since the US proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine in the early nineteenth century it took Latin America to be its backyard and arrogated to itself the right to drown in rivers of blood any challenge to its hegemony â€“ any prospect that people might be able to lead a decent life, have running water, be able to send their children to school or see a doctor when they are sick. The list of such brutal US interventions is long â€“ Guatemala in the early 1950s, Brazil and the Dominican Republic in the early 1960s, Chile in 1973, Nicaragua and the other countries of central America in the 1980s. And so on. In the 1980s Latin America was a continent of military juntas, death squads and economic prescriptions imposed by the United States, which have aptly been dubbed ‘sado-monetarism’. Today, the situation in Latin America is almost completely changed. Only Colombia may be said to be unequivocally in the American camp. The Monroe Doctrine is effectively dead. Of course, this is primarily a result of the struggles of the Latin American peoples themselves. But it is also immeasurably important that when the United States seeks to put pressure on the risen peoples to their south that Venezuela has an alternative market for its oil, Brazil for its soy, Argentina for its wheat, and so on. To be able to establish such relations of equality and mutual benefit with China and its vast economy is the single biggest external support to Latin America’s struggle for independent development.
I want also to refer to a recent African-American comment on China. In November 2006, the Los Angeles branch of the Urban League sent a delegation to China. The Urban League is a civil rights organisation that is nearly 90 years old. It is very moderate and mainstream. It is not leftist or revolutionary. Here are some of the things said by its President Blair Hamilton Taylor following his return from China:
â€œOver the months prior to the trip, many people asked me: ‘With all of the problems facing African-Americans in Los Angeles and all across America, why would you decide to go to China?’ â€¦
â€œThe Los Angeles Urban League decided that in a world where change is manifesting with the lightening speed of the Internet, a world where African-Americans are already on the verge of being left behind once again, it was time to move past talk. So we deliberately set out on a voyage to begin to secure the international alliances required for our global future.
â€œWe spent eight days in China, visiting the cities of Shanghai and Beijingâ€¦What we found and learned in our many discussions was nothing short of astonishing: A nation that had rocketed to world prominence welcomed us with the open arms of a long lost brotherâ€¦
â€œWe were genuinely welcomed openly everywhere we went. And while I am not at all naÃ¯ve about China’s political limitations, at some points in the journey, I felt more welcome as an African-American in Shanghai and Beijing than I do in some parts of Los Angeles. We had thought provoking discussions and considered bold ideas: Can they send teachers back to Los Angeles urban schools to teach Mandarin to inner city children? Can we work together to build a Global Wealth Conference for African Americans and other minorities in Los Angelesâ€¦co-sponsored by the Chinese?â€¦
â€œNo question was out of bounds. No idea was too far fetched. We came away with some concrete ideas and a firm agreement by both sides to flesh-out the ideasâ€¦ But beyond the ideas and actions discussed, we all walked away with a new set of relationships and a profound sense of possibilities and hope.
â€œWith a population about twice the size of Los Angeles, the city of Shanghai is now home to 18 million people and it is truly one of the great marvels of the world. Yet over less than 12 years, its vast, wide-open and undeveloped land has been replaced by some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Bicycles have been replaced by late model cars which whiz by on hundreds of miles of dazzling freeways and streets. A state of the art rail system transports people at speeds of more than 300 miles per hour. In aggregate, it is an awesome sight to behold. And embedded in it all is a powerful message to African-Americans, indeed to all Americans, about what is really possible in this century.â€
Hamilton Taylor is right. China is not a perfect society. The Chinese comrades themselves tell us this over and over again: That their country is still only in the primary stage of socialism. That what we see today is still only a beginning. That the best days of the People’s Republic are still to come. Yet already people, not just in the oppressed nations, but increasingly here in the imperialist heartlands, too, can start to see that a better alternative exists.
We are just a few weeks away from 8 August â€“ the opening of the Beijing Olympics. They are going to amaze the world. The facilities alone that China has built, such as the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, are architectural icons of the twenty-first century. On 1 October 1949, Chairman Mao said: â€œThe Chinese people have stood up.â€ And during the Beijing Games the whole world will see how the Chinese people are not only standing on their feet but have their heads held high. And that is why the West, using all its ragbag of agents and toadies â€“ from gutless journalists, Tibetan feudal reactionaries, cranks from the Falun Gong cult and so on â€“ want to spoil the party. They are running scared that people throughout the world will see the best face of socialist China. And that they will contrast this reality with their own lives and prospects.
So, the goal we have set ourselves of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China is not simply something we seek to do as friends of China. Although we are, of course, very good friends of China. This work is the cutting edge of the international class struggle and it has a bearing on all the other contradictions at play on the international scene, on the people’s struggle in every part of the world. This work is our internationalist duty.