By Pao-yu Ching
On March 9th 2014 the Red Path website (www.red-path.net) posted an article by N. B. Turner entitled: “Is China an Imperialist Country? Considerations and Evidence.” In the introduction the author said that all revolutionaries need to clarify the nature of imperialism today and “… revolutionary internationalism must take aim at, and organize forces with clear understanding, that revolution requires opposition to the entire capitalist-imperialist system.” I fully agree with this statement; it is indeed necessary to intensify our struggle against imperialism with the conviction and determination to win. However, I respectfully disagree with the approach N. B. Turner has taken in his paper. My criticisms are as follows:
1. Turner’s Views on the “Imperialist System”
Turner describes the imperialist system by focusing almost entirely on which countries are qualified as participants of “the imperialist system.” According to Turner the current list of participants are: the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, and China. Turner also lists Holland, Belgium, Canada, Australia and South Korea as having benefited from the imperialist system by “… sharing the plunder of the less economically developed countries and in the joint exploitation of the working people of the whole world that this system makes possible.” (www.red-path.net, 8)
In the Turner’s “imperialist system” Brazil and India comprise a third group of countries that he calls “would be imperialist countries” (or the “sub-imperialist”). He describes the ruling classes of Brazil and India as having ambitions to become imperialist countries but without the ability to fulfill those ambitions.
Turner does not concisely define nor describe countries that are being exploited by the “imperialist system.” The paper implies that if a country is not on the list of participants or one that is benefiting from the system, then it is being exploited by the system. Turner explains that as far as the “sub-imperialist” countries are concerned, it is incorrect to view them (India and Brazil) as “no longer being exploited by foreign imperialism, or as having become full-fledged imperialist countries themselves. … Quite the contrary, their major aspect is still as countries dominated and exploited by foreign imperialism.” (32)
The method Turner uses to separate the exploiter from the exploited, with a third group of “half exploited” countries is not only confusing but also subjective. What determines “the main aspect” of a country’s relationship to the “imperialist system”? How do we determine if a country has become “full-fledged“ imperialist from those that are not “full-fledged”? What is the threshold a country needs to cross to become a “full-fledged” imperialist country? He does not discuss what that threshold is or how to cross it – nor does he explain why that threshold is actually crossable. In other words, Turner implies that given time, the main aspect of Brazil and India’s relationship of domination and exploitation by foreign imperialism can be transformed somehow into minor aspects. If such a transformation took place, would Brazil and India then be elevated to full fledged participants in the “imperialist system”? None of these points are sufficiently explained.
2. Turner’s View on Economic Development
Turner’s article does not provide any overall analysis of China’s current economy, or how and under what conditions China has been incorporated into the global capitalist system, or the consequences of that incorporation on China and the Chinese people. Instead, it presents figures, including high rates of export and GDP growth, rapid increases in manufacturing production, increasing trade surpluses, and large foreign exchange reserves, as measures to show China’s economic strength. However, before neoliberal ideology became dominant in the 1980s, there were many discussions among the developmental (even bourgeois) economists seriously questioning the use of those measures to determine the level of economic development of less developed countries. But that era has long passed and Wall Street has taken over as the authority on economic development, forcibly promoting neoliberal ideology together with concrete neoliberal policies.
Neoliberal ideology has equated economic development exclusively with growth in GDP and exports, trade surpluses, and the size of foreign exchange reserves. Trade organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, and financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, have used their power to enforce policies of opening up markets of less developed countries to foreign trade and foreign investment, reforming their institutions, liberalizing their “outdated” restrictive regulations, de-regulating their banks and financial institutions, and privatizing their “inefficient” nationally owned enterprises. This widely propagated law of development dictates that each country should exploit its comparative advantage and promote exports at all cost. Once a country complete the above reforms and obeys the international rules for trade and investment, its exports will take off and growth in employment and GDP will follow.
Turner’s flawed view on economic development is clarified in his assessment of the NICs (Newly Industrialized Countries) experiences as positive. The NICs were pioneers in the export-led growth strategy of development; imperialists use them as showcases to promote neoliberal ideology and policies. China’s capitalist reformer, Deng Xiao-ping, was inspired by the NICs’ “achievements”, which led to him taking decisive actions to dissolve China’s socialist economy and linking China with the global capitalist system.
In spite of what may be growth in exports and increases in GDP, the consequences of the neoliberal “development” strategy on the less developed countries have been devastating. People in these countries have suffered not only from selling their labor power at low wages in the new international division of labor, they have also lost valuable natural resources and suffered from the pollution of their land, water and air. Moreover, they have to endure repeated economic crises shifted to them by global monopoly capital. As a result, anti-imperialist movements in many less developed countries have put up strong resistance to their governments implementing these policies. I believe that in order to resist the expansion of global monopoly capital and the pressures exerted by imperialist countries, those on the Left need to challenge this dominant ideology and expose all the serious consequences of these policies on the less developed countries and their people. Turner not only holds up the NICs and China as successful examples of the neoliberal capitalist model of development he also fails to challenge the measures used by Wall Street, the imperialist organizations and neoliberal economists to gauge economic development. In his article he uses these measures repeatedly as proof of China’s economic strength.
The Right has seized the “successful” experiences of the NICs to attack Marxism and Leninism. Staffan Burenstam said in his book The Pacific Century:
The Asian NICs are deliveringa second shock to Marxism. Not only does it remain clear that, contrary to what Marx claimed, advanced capitalism can avoid disintegration; it has also been demonstrated that, contrary to the neo-Marxists’ claim, newcomers can rise by means of capitalism… (54)
Turner analysis seems to be in complete agreement with Burenstam on the successful capitalist development of Taiwan, South Korea, and other NICs, and includes China in the list of countries that have “successfully” developed capitalism under imperialism. He does not preclude the possibility that countries such as Brazil and India can follow suit. Turner’s analysis implies that Lenin was wrong. Propagandists on the Right claim that the neoliberal capitalist development worked for the NICs and is now working for China. This is one of the biggest ideological victories capitalism has achieved in its highest stage of development.
3. According to Turner Neither China Nor Chinese People are Exploited
I agree with Turner that imperialism is a system and that the United States is not the only imperialist country in the world. I also think that China has been pillaging resources and exploiting people in other less developed countries, however, I do not think we should focus our attention on speculating whether China will become an imperialist power on par with the United States. As such, China’s Left must have an internationalist view and oppose what its bourgeois government has been doing in other less developed countries. However, I disagree with Turner that China and Chinese people are no longer exploited by imperialism. Turner rightly reminds us that we cannot let China’s past shame and suffering blind us from seeing China’s current reality. But we also cannot be blind to China’s current day realities from the perspective of its people and environment: the exploitation and destruction unleashed on China and its people since the bourgeois regime began its Reform thirty plus years ago.
In the larger paper from which this article draws, I describe how the Reform exploited and repressed Chinese workers, depleted China’s natural resources, destroyed China’s environment and thoroughly distorted China’s economy. (https://critiqueandtransformation.wordpress.com/) In this new phase of imperialism, as a country China’s land, resources, environment and people have not being exempted from imperialist exploitation. For these reasons the Chinese peoples’ anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles are becoming increasingly active and are in fact an important component of the global anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggle. Holding the view that China is an exploited country is not a narrow nationalist view in defense of the Chinese bourgeois regime. Rather it is an internationalist view that recognizes the necessity of including the most active peoples’ struggles in China in our global anti-imperialist struggle.
In the decades ahead China is headed towards larger and deeper crises. Current weaker global demand has already slowed the growth of China’s exports, and some subcontractors in the export industry feeling the slowing of the global market and the pressure of growing workers’ demands have already begun relocating their labor-intensive production to countries where the wages are even lower. These changes together with a long period of overinvestment intensify the problem of over-capacity, which has reached an alarming scale. Moreover, as China’s agricultural sector further declines from lack of investment, losing agricultural land, and labor emigration to urban areas, China will need to import even more food to feed its population. And as China’s environmental pollution becomes even more intolerable, the government would soon have to deal with the many impending environment crises. In the meantime the Chinese proletariat, totaling more than 400 million, are more mature and experienced from decades of active struggle. From these conditions, we can expect an acceleration of class struggle in China. If we do not recognize China or Chinese people as being exploited, how do we understand the current and growing peoples’ struggles in China? And do we exclude them from the global anti-imperialist struggle?
I would like to thank Red-Path for giving me the opportunity, in the spirit of unity and struggle, to voice my disagreements with and criticisms Turner’s article.
 For the rest of my comments capitalism and imperialism will be used interchangeably.
 Burenstam, Staffan, The Pacific Century: Economic and Political Consequences Of Asian-Pacific Dynamism, Stanford, University Press, 1986