Hussam Itani

About the 'Alternative' That Remains Ingrained in the Minds of Chinese Communists

Communism was the most prominent absentee at the Chinese Communist Party Congress. Since getting the burdens of its internationalist obligations off its shoulders and prioritizing the development of the Chinese economy, the party has not been concerned with the ideological struggles that had marked the sixties.

The fact is that, with the exception of its decision to hold on to some of its older slogans and symbols, like the hammer and sickle on its red flag with five stars (the big star symbolizes the party, which leads the other groups of society, each of which it symbolized by one the four small stars) and The International anthem, which continues to be sung at the start and end of its massive party conferences, nothing links the party to the traditions of the communist parties whose star has burnt out.

Despite this, the Communist Party continues to steer the Chinese state and Chinese society, by a matter of both fact and law. The distance the party has placed between itself and classical Marxism since Deng Xiaoping decided that it “doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice;” that is, that time should not be squandered by asking whether the cat (i.e. the party as per popular Chinese puns and symbols) is capitalist or socialist. Deng removed the Maoist cloak that had always called itself as a peaceful and suitable alternative framework not only for China but also for all the countries of the Third World. Instead, Deng opted for a practical approach that drove the communists to accuse him of opportunism and revisionism, or rather of totally deviating from Marxist-Leninist and even Maoist thought.

However, Chinese Communists had distinguished themselves early on, taking an oppositional stance to traditional Marxism, whose banner had been carried by their Soviet comrades in the twenties, when the star of the Chinese Communist Party and its young leader Mao Zedong began shining. The communists’ bloody struggle with the Kuomintang and the complex relationship between the parties, which saw them cooperate politically at times and become embroiled in bloody clashes with others before allying together against the Japanese and then fighting one another in a vicious civil war that ended with Mao achieving victory, compelled the Chinese communists to emphasize the special characteristics of Chinese society that distinguished it from the societies of Western Europe, to which classical Marxism had been directed.

The differences turned into defection from Communist International. Mao put forward his idea of the peasant revolution in which impoverished rural areas besiege the cities, which were seen as bastions of the bourgeoisie, in what is an obvious deviation from the prioritization of cities in Marxist analysis. With the Maoist unreservedly endorsing revolutionary violence and the spread of their slogan “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” Maoism began to pose a threat to the authority of other communist parties across the world. It also contributed to the emergence of the New Left, which manifested itself in an array of forms, some of which were seen in the Arab world, influencing Palestinian resistance factions and some parties from both the Levante and Maghreb.

This idea evolved and took an international dimension when Mao asserted that nuclear war could be utilized in the conflict against imperialism in which the “east wind prevails over the west wind.” Moreover, it seemed that the student revolution in the West and many armed revolutionary movements around the world, some of which (like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia) committed unspeakable massacres as they applied their understanding of Mao’s ideas, drew from the “alternative” model presented by Maoist China. The Cultural Revolution (1976 to 1966), which the party leader launched as a tool in his war primarily against “bureaucratic” rivals, went out of control. Once Mao died, the Gang of Four began directing the revolution to seize absolute power. This is the moment when Deng Xiaoping put another “alternative” forward: allowing investment and the development of private capital. He thereby laid the foundations for the “Chinese miracle” that would go on to change the world and become a phenomenon that no one in global politics can overlook.

The twentieth Chinese Communist Party Congress, which began on the sixteenth of October, emphasized the idea of an “alternative” for a world drowning in wars and economic crises- and deeply worried about the climate crisis threatening the planning- more than previous Congresses had done.

Among the matters, already discussed at length, on the agenda at the congress are the question of extending Xi Jinping’s term for the third time, which goes against the tradition that had been laid in the eighties, and debates about the threat of a Chinese economic collapse as a result of decreasing growth and the possibility of the real estate and financial bubbles popping. However, the Communist Party has not abandoned its “alternative” that it sees the current president as presenting to the world: the state playing a central role in steering society on the one hand, and capital freedom, which does not rule out state regulation in any sense, on the other.

In other words, governance that balances iron-fist rule with open opportunities for millions to improve their living conditions. With this formula, they hope to find solutions for rural poverty, social inequality, and impediments to the technological progress needed to return to high growth rates even as the party intervenes in research and development.
Globally, there has no doubt been enthusiasm for this model in countries devastated by chaos and destitution. Applications of this Chinese model elsewhere in the world, meanwhile, have not been encouraging so far. This lack of success was not precipitated only by the ferocious US effort to confront Chinese expansion but also by the structural problems inherent in the manager in which Chinese politics and economics are managed abroad... But that’s another matter.