A person connected with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences attended the Left Forum in New York City in June 2013. When asked if she agreed that in light of its present export of billions of dollars of capital China is now an imperialist country she responded that China can’t be imperialist because its foreign investments are not preceded and protected by military force.
This is once again a failure to understand that there is an imperialist system, of which China is now an integral part. China’s investments around the world are in fact “preceded and protected by military force”, even if—at present—that force is not yet being wielded to a significant degree by the Chinese bourgeoisie itself. According to this woman’s logic Japan and Germany are not imperialist powers either, since most of the military force being used to maintain the imperialist system is currently being supplied and/or directed by the U.S. together with a few close allies.
There is in fact a tremendous reluctance even among many people who recognize full well that China is now a capitalist country to grant that it is also now an imperialist country. And this is true even among many Maoists both internationally and within China itself. What lies behind this unwillingness to recognize the obvious?
In part this is no doubt due to a failure to fully comprehend the term ‘imperialism’ in the Leninist sense. But it seems to us that there is a deeper cause as well; a lingering feeling among even many Chinese revolutionaries that no matter what China does today it can still only be the victim of foreign imperialism.
China was in fact a long and major victim of foreign imperialism (especially British, Tsarist Russian, U.S. and Japanese imperialism) for well over a century before 1949. Even after the 1949 Revolution China had to ward off U.S. imperialism in Korea (1950-1953) and help in a major way to defeat both French and U.S. imperialism in Indo-China (1949-1975). It also had to stand strong against Soviet social-imperialism and its serious military threat against China, while that existed. The feeling that China has long been the victim of foreign imperialism, and further threatened by it, is deeply ingrained in the psyche of progressive Chinese people, and rightly so.
But the bitter experience of these great historical wounds could be blinding people, including within China, to the realities of present-day Chinese regime. Even the egregious sins of the current bourgeois ruling class in China, both against the Chinese masses and in their penetrations into foreign countries, are often blamed more on U.S. imperialism and its “manipulation” of the Chinese rulers, than on those rulers themselves. The assumption or dogma is that the Chinese ruling class is still a comprador bourgeoisie, largely under the thumb of foreign imperialism, rather than a bureaucratic national bourgeoisie promoting its own class interests against the interests of the people of China and of the whole world.
This misconception, even among many present-day Chinese followers of Mao, is a serious political error. You can’t make a revolution if you don’t understand the real situation you are in. If Chinese revolutionaries are unable to see that China has become an imperialist country then they are in danger of apologizing on a nationalist basis for a regime that they say they to want to overthrow!
Recently many Chinese enthusiasts for Mao and the socialism of the Mao period have come to understand that the so-called Communist Part of China is completely and permanently under the control of the bourgeoisie, and cannot be won back to the proletariat by appealing to its supposedly “more revolutionary cadre”. Nonetheless, many people fell for the superficial pretend “Maoist” reformism of Bo Xilai, for example. To make a new proletarian revolution in China, a small but growing number of genuine Maoists agree on the need to form a new genuinely revolutionary Communist Party, which has not been any part of the last 35 years of the revisionist and now virtually openly capitalist party. (Thinking that Chinese society can be changed by “recapturing” the CCP is simply a naïve reformist notion, similar to the thinking that American society can be changed in some significant way by revolutionaries “capturing” the Democratic Party. It is time to reject such ideas totally.)
This is only one aspect of a new Chinese revolutionary movement as it comes to more deeply understand the nature of the political system they are up against. This nascent Chinese revolutionary movement is now insisting that China today is not a socialist country and has not been for many decades. And they are now insisting, amid growing debate, that the nature of the class struggle in China is between a ruling bureaucratic national capitalist-imperialist bourgeoisie and the alliance of the now huge proletariat and the peasantry and their allies. China is now an imperialist country, and it requires a revolutionary internationalist conception and program of opposition to Chinese imperialism. And they are rejecting the simplistic and ahistorical notion that becoming a Maoist revolutionary today means returning to the same ideas, program and strategy of opposition to foreign imperialism, the comprador bourgeoisie and the landlord class that were appropriate back in the 1930s and 1940s. Times have changed! There is a lot of work for Maoist revolutionaries to do in China and internationally to get our movement progressing on the right path!
Many Maoists and supporters of Mao outside of China have also had tendencies to fail to see that China has qualitatively changed into a capitalist-imperialist country. There are a great many people around the world who have been part of the anti-imperialist and revolutionary movements and who have spent many years defending revolutionary China against scurrilous attacks and lies. Naturally we have developed a deep appreciation for Mao and the Chinese Revolution. But today’s China is no longer that Maoist revolutionary China which drew our strong affection and support, and our ideas must correspondingly change as well. While continuing to uphold Mao and the Maoist era in China, and the world-shaking Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, we can no longer in good conscience uphold or support the capitalist-imperialist country that China has now become. Our allegiance is not with China, but with the revolutionary people’s struggle, in China and around the world.
 Bo Xilai was a powerful leader of the CCP and member of the Politburo who was forced from power after his wife, Gu Kailai, was charged with murdering a British businessman, and Bo was said to have obstructed her prosecution. After Bo’s fall she was arrested and convicted. Bo was charged with bribery, graft, improper sexual relations with several women and abuse of power. Like nearly all Chinese leaders today, he and his family have become enormously rich—and this was not from their modest official salaries! His trial began on Aug. 22, 2013, and he was convicted a few weeks later and sentenced to life imprisonment. [“Bo Xilai Set to Face Trial This Week as Historic Case Nears End”, Bloomberg News, Aug. 18, 2013, online at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-18/bo-xilai-trial-set-for-aug-22-in-jinan-xinhua-says.html ]
Bo is what is known as a “Princeling”, i.e. one of the descendants of the most powerful revisionist leaders of the CCP who have become sort of a hereditary nobility in China. (His father was Bo Yibo, one of the so-called “eight immortals” of the CCP, who—led by Deng Xiaoping—destroyed socialism and restored capitalism in China.) As the Party leader of the city of Chongqing, Bo Xilai tried to build a personal power base for his career by cracking down on rampant organized crime, promoting some welfare programs, and appealing to mass nostalgia for the socialism of the Mao years. He even encouraged some superficial Maoist trappings such as waving red flags and the singing of old revolutionary songs. He tried to “ride the tide” of growing rebellion and new revolutionary sentiment, but also, according to some reports, betrayed revolutionary comrades at a critical juncture, in order to save his own skin from government attack. As we’ve seen, he failed. But his political and economic program was as solidly capitalist as any other contemporary leader the CCP. It is doubtful if he was any more corrupt than any of the other present CCP leaders. However, his “Maoist public image” and campaigning for mass support alarmed many other leaders of the Party, and they took the opportunity which presented itself when the murder which his wife committed came to light, as well as Bo Xilai’s own purported role in attempting to cover it up, to remove him from power.
At best Bo was merely a bourgeois reformist and not a Maoist revolutionary; at worst he was a corrupt populist demagogue. We’re not sure which. There is an important general moral here: People need to be alert to the possible existence of reformist populists who fool the masses into thinking that they are revolutionaries.