[Review by Thomas Fenton]
Jenny Clegg’s superbly analytical book arrives at a critical historic moment. The US-dominated post-cold war world order is finding itself increasingly challenged in the context of the imperialist economic collapse and the quagmire into which the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have descended.
This year will also mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949, following the Chinese people’s victorious struggle against Japanese imperialist occupation and the subsequent struggle waged under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) against US imperialism and domestic reactionaries. This constituted the greatest revolutionary achievement of the 20th century, following the October Revolution. China today is not only the world’s most populous nation, with 1.3 billion people, but also a country committed to socialism and the leading developing country.
This book’s chief contribution is to situate China’s internal development within the context of the rising developing world. The internal development issues that Clegg addresses include the economic and political, specifically, the recent transition from a strategy of â€œrapid growth at any costâ€ toward a â€œpeople firstâ€ and sustainable approach, which, she argues, must tackle such problems as social inequality, the consequences of mass rural migration into the cities, and environmental degradation.
Clegg also expresses support for China’s sovereignty in both Taiwan and Tibet, although she claims, without further elaboration or explanation, that in the latter case â€“ a favourite issue for the ‘anti-China’ lobby in the UK and elsewhere â€“ the government should nevertheless â€œmodifyâ€ what she describes as â€œits top-down approachâ€ as far as is realistically possible.
Relating China’s internal development to world developments, Clegg states that, since 1949, the country has maintained the view that â€œthe primary conflict in the world is between imperialism and anti-imperialism, rather than capitalism and socialismâ€.
The end of the cold war â€œunleashed a new age of imperialismâ€, with the United States â€œemerging as the world’s sole superpowerâ€, and China’s strategy in response to these historical developments constitutes a â€œLeninism for the twenty-first centuryâ€, according to Clegg.
Chinese foreign policy has, in fact, consistently allowed for cooperation between developing countries with differing social and political systems, as spelled out by Premier Zhou Enlai at the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, which Clegg sees as intrinsic to China’s current development of a â€œpolitical strategy of counter-hegemonismâ€.
Clegg believes that the new ‘Chinese Leninism’, places the â€œThird World struggle for developmentâ€ at the centre of world transformation, within which China pursues a new international political and economic order (NIPEO), envisioning nuclear disarmament/demilitarisation, and an increased regional level of multi-polar organisation. Such an order, argues Clegg, would further comprise an â€œequitable sharing of world marketsâ€, finance oriented towards development, sustainable development, and a stabilised international monetary system.
Jenny Clegg is a distinguished academic and a lifelong friend of China and anti-imperialist, anti-war activist. There is a serious dearth of contemporary western scholarship that adopts a sympathetic but rigorous perspective towards the Chinese revolution and its domestic and external strategies. Whilst one may not necessarily agree with all her conclusions, Clegg’s book represents a serious and timely attempt to grapple with vital issues and therefore constitutes an important contribution to a much-needed debate.
If this book helps bring about a more advanced understanding of the contemporary features of imperialism, and the paramount importance to the communist and progressive movement of supporting China’s socialist construction and its foreign policy of independence and peace, then it will have served a valuable purpose.