Book Review – Harpal Brar’s ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’
This long-awaited volume comes at a most critical time for the world progressive movement, and whoever sincerely desires competently to serve the masses in their hour of need must surely hasten to read it. It contains a wealth of information about China, the history of its revolution and its current policies, but besides that, it is a crucial handbook for understanding how to apply Marxism-Leninism to the current world situation.
As a result of the unresolved economic crisis that surfaced in 2007-8 and has never gone away, notwithstanding the partially successful manoeuvres of capitalist governments to dodge the crisis at the expense of the working masses all over the world, people everywhere are rising up in turmoil and despair. Massive protests are taking place in numerous countries – protests which are primarily protests against the deteriorating living standards of the masses, albeit that these protests take different outward forms – as protests against police brutality, protests against government corruption, protest votes for populist parties, etc., etc. Ultimately the basic reason for the protests is that society, ruled as it is by an immensely powerful but selfish, greedy and infinitely cruel imperialist ruling elites, is increasingly failing to provide adequately for increasing numbers of those of its members who have to work for their living. The economic system desperately requires revolutionising, not only to establish rational distribution of the massive wealth being produced by the working masses, but also to put a halt to the incredibly destructive wars that the imperialist ruling classes wage in order to facilitate their plunder, and to their wanton destruction of our planet’s natural resources that is endangering the very future of life on earth.
Mao Zedong famously said that “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.” But at this particular moment the chaos is diffuse and lacking in direction, and, as a result, achieving little. For the ruling elites to be overthrown and their cankerous economic system to be replaced by a rational system able to cater to the wellbeing of the entire population requires direction and leadership. The revolutionary movement needs to know what it wants and how to get it, and for that purpose it needs to be led by communist parties that are free of opportunism and therefore able to lead the proletariat to salvation. From that point of view, the situation is very far from excellent. Communist parties in most parts of the world have little influence, and many of them have sunk into opportunism in the vain hope of popularising themselves, achieving nothing but getting themselves ideologically hopelessly lost. To restore the prestige of communism among the masses and to offer them effective leadership in their struggles, it is essential to have ideological clarity, which Harpal Brar’s book strives to help to provide.
This bookis not just about China. It is about clarifying the way forward that needs to be taken by the progressive movement in order to cure the ills of the present day. It focuses of China because without a clear understanding of China’s revolution and subsequent evolution it would be very difficult for any communist party to offer the masses effective political leadership. The main points it emphasises is that China as an anti-imperialist power must be supported wholeheartedly, but that restoration and expansion of market relations since the death of Mao Zedong, notwithstanding China’s successes under the market system, pose a serious threat to the continuation of the Chinese revolution, on the one hand, and can also blur the vision of revolutionaries everywhere so that they lose sight of the fact that the whole point of proletarian revolution is to dismantle the market as soon as possible as its depredations and inherent irrationality cannot be indefinitely contained even by the most socialistically minded government.To date, the experience of the Chinese market economy gives the appearance of contradicting this most basic tenet of Marxism-Leninism, as a result of which it would be the grossest neglect of one’s duty as a communist to fail to investigate this issue thoroughly, without regard to sentiment, and without fear or favour.
Harpal Brar’s book does makes this investigation easier by collecting together a mass of facts, of history as well as economics, on which investigation can proceed. It starts by putting the Chinese revolution in its historical context and continues by examining the class struggle that took place in the years immediately following the establishment of the People’s Republic. It deals in some detail with the Cultural Revolution, pointing out both its strengths and weaknesses, putting it into its context of the attempts to bring about fundamental economic reform, and demonstrates how attitudes to the cultural revolution differ according to the class interests of the contending parties.
The author strongly emphasises the massive economic advances made by China in the years before the pro-market reforms were introduced, and correctly shows that they were the essential basis on which the subsequently-installed market economy could flourish as well as it has done.
He goes on to give tremendous detail both of the economic achievements of the Chinese market economy as well as the price that has had to be paid for them by the Chinese people. But one point is made abundantly clear, which is that under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party the state has retained a huge public sector that is able to provide essential infrastructure and services, as well as to respond effectively to crises such as earthquakes or coronavirus. This is in contrast to the fragile economies of imperialist countries whose respective ruling classes in the frantic search for profitable avenues of investment have been able to privatise so much of what had been kept previously in the public sector in order to secure its reliability. With so much of essential services privatised, the government is left bereft of resources to mount any kind of effective response to crisis, and services become both more expensive and less reliable, and often, as we see in Britain, a means by which capitalists can milk the state’s resources in order to amass even greater wealth at the expense of the taxpayers even under conditions of deep economic crisis.
Harpal Brar is known for his anxiety to see a reunification of the communist movement and the restoration of its prestige and influence that suffered greatly first by the triumph of Khrushchevite revisionism followed by the split in the communist movement and then, even worse, by the downfall of the Soviet Union. His first book Perestroika – the complete collapse of revisionism sought to assist this reunification by winning back to Marxism-Leninism those communist parties and individuals who had been bamboozled by Khrushchev’s revisionist theories of market socialism, the idea being that now it could be proved that these theories were toxic since their application had brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, revisionist theories could be abandoned and the communist movement reunited. By and large, unfortunately, most of the parties that had embraced Khrushchevism failed to face the fact that they had been in error and failed to mend their ways. And now China, notwithstanding its embrace of market socialism, has not collapsed but has made giant steps forward, leading many erroneously to believe that it is possible for a progressive government on a permanent basis to bend market forces to its will so that they benefit the masses of the people. Harpal Brar painstakingly shows how China’s success has come about while at the same time demonstrating why this progress cannot be maintained for too long under market conditions.
For the love of the people, this is a book that must be thoroughly studied.