China and the U.S. in the World Today: A Marxist Historian's Perspective by Norman Markowitz


I have posted below somewhat revised version of my presentation at an excellent  panel that Gary Hicks  organized and developed at the Left Forum last Sunday I

 The Panel was titled:  China: The Panda in the Left's Living Room.  The speakers dealt with China today, China's role in the world, and U.S. China relations.r y

The participants are listed below and I have included a postscript on the discussion which followed.  Gary Hicks, scholar-activist, should be commended for developingthe concept of the panel and doing the work that brought it about and made it, opinion, a success

Chair, Speakers: Gary Hicks -- Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library Oakland CA, Norman Markowitz -- Rutgers University, Wei Xiaoping -- Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,  Martin RIvlin -- independent scholar, Columbia University




China and the U.S. in the 21st Century:  A Marxist Historians Perspective

 The serious study of History is always about understanding the past as it relates to the present and on that basis trying to grasp what are the likely developments in the near future

Marxist analyses of history  is about understanding the larger political economic system, the social classes in conflict within that system, and  the dialectical relationships, that is dynamic interactions between changing conditions, social movements  Ideologies which are serve  as  bridges between social movements and changing conditions.

In that sense, Marxism enables us to understand in a holistic way the relationship of the general to the specific, to understand the relationship of dominant ideologies to economic political systems, and the relationship of cultures to changing political economy

Finally, Marxism connects theory with practice, science, a science of society, with social class partisanship, providing a holistic analysis that can become a force in itself to advance positive change, that is, the interests of the working class and the path to socialism.

Let me try to brief apply that analysis in broad outline to Chinese- U.S. relations today and in the near future

First we have to look at global political economy and of course the capitalist world system

The capitalist world system has developed for centuries, but for the questions we are asking concerning U.S. China relations, its most important developments have taken place with the rise of industrial capitalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, which has produced modern imperialism, the imperialism of export capital and with it the world or global market, leading to globalized militarization, global wars, global depressions.  This modern imperialism has produced its  dialectical antithesis, attempts at socialist revolutions and  anti-imperialist national revolutions , of which the Chinese peoples Revolution, of the 20th century, combining anti-imperialist national liberation with a commitment  advanced by the Chinese Communist Party to construct a socialist society,  is by far the most important, both in its time and today.

Let us look very briefly a the United States and how it got to where it is today


The United States had the first major anti-colonial revolution in modern history, a revolution also to establish an independent bourgeois republic. It became in the 19th century the first large capitalist republic in modern history, expanding across North America.  After 1890 it surpassed Britain to become the leading industrial capitalist nation After WWI, it replaced Britain as the leading finance capitalist nation.  Today in the early 21st century its ruling class and the political economy that they control are in a very contradictory position. 

The U.S. state was after WWII the founder and leader of NAT0 bloc, against the Soviet Union and its allies and the world communist movement until the fall of the Soviet Union.

 This served  as a 20th century  industrial capitalist  version in the twentieth century of old 19th century “Holy Alliance” which, with Britain in the background, fought against the expansion of the French Bourgeois  revolution, against the revolutionary Jacobin state and the later Bonapartist empire.

But unlike Britain, which had used the forces  made up the Holy Alliance against the French Revolution and Napoleon, but kept a distance from its more reactionary expressions in advancing its initially hegemonic economic power to develop its global empire in the name of “civilization, “progress, and “free trade,” the U.S. state was always both the creator and  leader of the NAT0 bloc and the advocate of its most aggressive and reactionary policies.

 Also, unlike the British, which emerged richer and more powerful from the from its “victory in the  wars of the  French revolution, the  U.S.  economy    emerged from the U.S. NATO bloc ‘victory” in the wars of the cold war in a much weaker position in terms of industry and finance than it was at the beginning of those conflicts after WWII, even while its leaders foolishly, George HW Bush and others, proclaimed a “new world order” and genuflected, as they continued to do, to the concept of “globalization.” 

Although they would never admit it, in all likelihood even to themselves, the capitalist leaders of the U.S. fear that China will in the 21st century follow their path in the 19th and 20th. 

Then they moved in practice away from the state principles of  their anti-colonial revolution,  first  under Jefferson’s  slogan of an “empire for liberty” then under the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny, the commercial and later industrial/financial bourgeoisie  led the U.S. to  become an imperialist power  fashioning a non colonial imperialism, first in the Caribbean, Central America, and indirectly the rest of the Western Hemisphere, then  the banner of the cold war a global imperialism which “united “ and   became hegemonic over all of the other imperialist powers. 

Is that possible?  A Chinese “empire for a socialist market economy” controlling the industrial heart of Asia and controlling Asian markets, with preferential access to the raw materials of Africa and other parts of the world, with Chinese  domination of the IMF World Bank system?  I don’t see that as China’s likely future, and I am no more for that than the U.S. capitalists, but for of course very different reasons.


Now let’s look at China

China’s role in the world, starting from a very different place than the U.S.  has over the last three decades been remarkably successful in ways that the defenders of capitalist  policy fear is beating them at their own game, whatever the long-term effects of playing that game may be.   

 It has been the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party that has pursued the old axiom that nations have interests, not permanent enemies.  It is the leadership of the Chinese Communist party which has put one foot in the capitalist world, and kept one large foot out—buying shares in the public debt of the U.S. to give it leverage against possible anti-Chinese policies launched by the U.S. state, balancing the largest mixed economy in human history, while controlling to use Lenin’s term about industry a nearly a century ago, “the commanding heights” of finance capital.

 China is no longer capital poor, as the Soviet Union was until its end in 1991. It is the second economy of the world, as was the Soviet Union, but unlike the Soviet Union, which lost capital massively in subsidizing allies, having to take foreign capital at high interest rates, and selling nothing except raw materials on world markets, it has developed a mixed economy system which has accumulated capital domestically and internationally, becoming a major exporter of finished goods, high value goods, in international trade.

 The major capitalist states established in the cold war era all of their economic, political and military institutions under U.S. leadership to encircle and destroy the Soviet Union and its bloc.  The one thing that they never had to worry about was Soviet competition for world markets, as against the Soviets supporting revolutionary movements that would take more and more of the world out of the capitalist world system

Now, to use a favorite ploy of American comedians, there is for U.S. NAT0 bloc capitalists both good and bad news. 

The good news is that they don’t have to worry about China actively supporting revolutionary movements that would take more and more of the world out of the world capitalist system.  The bad news is that if they seek to encircle China through a neo cold war policy, destroy the government of the Peoples Republic and the Chinese Communist party and transform China into an enterprise zone for foreign investment and exports, not only will they fail, but they will in all likelihood create an economic catastrophe for the world capitalist system.   

China’s relationship to world politics and the capitalist world system is radically different, making any neo cold war strategy of “containing China” by forging military alliances with Japan, South Korea, and other states bordering China not only sinister but absurd. 

It’s only beneficiary in the short-run  would be the military industrial complex of the U.S. which has been a parasitic force, especially since Reagan’s election to the presidency, absorbing trillions of dollars in public funds for projects which detracted from the development of the civilian economy, detracted from scientific and technological development which would have enabled the U.S. to sustain the great advantages that it previously possessed in terms of production technology. Investment capital and a skilled labor force. 

 U.S. military spending during the cold war alone, 1947 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been estimated at 10 trillion dollars.  And this, along with the huge reduction in taxes on corporations and the wealthy and  the post cold war” war against “terrorism” and  its spending of many trillions, has created   the spectacular increase in the national debt which has made the U.S. if not capital poor, capital vulnerable.

What policies should a responsible American Left see in U.S.-Chinese Relations?

First, it is important to grasp that China is vital to the maintenance of peace certainly in East Asia and the Pacific, to the development of a peace policy on the Korean Peninsula, to peace and development in Southeast Asia directly. 

China also can play and the responsible left should support a role in the development of a peace process for South Asia generally. 

 Here I think that the U.S. and China can work together fruitfully to both engage with India and disengage from Pakistan, with whom China has nothing really in common (since it is an anti-socialist  theocratic state and a military junta state aiding and abetting reactionary Islamic terrorist groups, which have directly attacked the U.S. and potentially can be a threat, given its Islamic minorities to China)

 It would be short-sighted in the extreme for China to see Pakistan as a geopolitical military pawn against India, since Pakistan’s economic backwardness and militarist adventurism against India only undermines regional economic development and harms both India and China, whose  mutual interest really is in expanding regional economic relationships.  The U.S. policy of funding and arming Pakistan from the 1950s as an anti-Communist, anti-Soviet “containment state,” allying with Pakistan to both subvert  and attack  the Communist led Soviet supported government of Afghanistan in the 1980s, led directly to the establishment of Al Qaeda, the later Taliban government, and all of the disasters of the recent past  and present.

                What else can the American Left , whose divisions sadly have undermined its development since the post WWII political persecutions,  give in the form of constructive advice to  China?

 First, I would advise the Chinese Communist Party activists  to look seriously at what CPUSA leader Gus Hall called “bill of rights socialism,” socialism with civil liberties, as a necessity for socialist development. 

Mao Tse-tung’s concept of “from the people to the people” is in itself a Chinese expression as I see it  of Bill of Rights Socialism, because trust in the masses of people in their understanding and development, is necessary if the masses of people are to trust in you .

 Just as the feudal Confucian philosophy had ,as I remember from my studies of Chinese history at the University of Michigan more over four decades ago, a concept of a righteous scholar representing both the Confucian path and the people against corruption, Chinese Communist cadres  can perhaps develop the concept of the “righteous cadre” living with and for the people, not above them, teaching and learning from them. The cadre of the CPC could then lead to  limit the accumulation of personal and family wealth, educate and organize the people to root out bribery and corruption both domestic and the result of Foreign Direct Investment. I

It was, we should remember,  this commitment to the people, to live with them and like them that enabled the Chinese Communist Party to defeat the Japanese and later U.S. imperialists, warlords, landlords, and the reactionary Kuomintang regime.  It is something that should be remembered as China struggles to construct a socialist market economy

   I would also say to our Chinese comrades broadly defined  that planning,is the  key component of all models of socialism   There are three components of  planning in any system, including public sector institutions and corporations in capitalist systems.  The first is strategic planning, that is  policies to achieve long range goals like Deng’s Four Modernizations at the end of the 1970s. 

The second component is tactical planning,  that is flexible responses to changing conditions in regard to the policies to achieve the goals of the plan.

The third component  is human relations planning , that is, gaining the active participation, support, and trust of the masses of people.  These are what one might call the three principles of effective planning.

Without the third component effective human relations planning and policy, no planning process will be ultimately effective. I would say that adoption of and adaption to national conditions of  Bill of Rights socialism, socialism with civil liberties, is the most effective human relations policy for those seeking to develop socialism. 

 The development of socialism   remains the stated goal of the Chinese Communist Party, which came into existence to liberate the Chinese people from domestic feudalism and foreign imperialism and to open the door to the construction of a socialist Society with Chinese characteristics.

Let me say also to those here on the left who spend their time criticizing Chinese policy.  First our struggle is here and our only real influence is and can be what we can do here to advance peoples movements in the direction of a socialist path and to unify ourselves so that we can fight monopoly capitalism and imperialism, not in attacking which have had revolutions and whose stated aims are to establish socialist societies. By condemning China for its domestic and foreign policies, those on the left are “tailing”” to use the old language of the Comintern, reactionaries and  neo cold warriors

If the left in the U.S. to be taken seriously about anything, it  might begin by looking at where the U.S political economy is  today in comparison to China before  blithely accusing the Chinese Communist Party and state of leading an exploitative capitalist system

 Those who mock the CPC’s stated commitment to develop a “socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics” should note that the political power structure  of the United States, including the most progressive Democrats, would not dream of  transforming the United States into “a socialist market economy with American characteristics”

.  Recently they, and here I include the Obama administration, have been so timid as to shy away from the policies associated with the American New Deal, that is, “social democratic”  policies which the New Dealers drew in limited forms from the Communist and socialist movement, public works jobs for the unemployed, laws protecting trade unions, public old age pensions and unemployment benefits, large public developmental projects,  even food stamps to assist the poor and  food store  proprietors. Such policies instead of merely “bailouts” to Wall Street and Bank and Industrial capital, with no concessions demanded of Bank and Industrial capital in terms of jobs, trade union rights, serious tax reform, etc., Such a planning  would in terms of an anti-depression strategy, tactics to advance such a strategy, and human relations, that is, winning the support of the masses, similar to New Deal policies, would in effect have successfully borrowed in a very limited form socialist programs to both save and reform capitalist

What the Chinese Communist party is doing or trying to do is to adopt  in a limited form the capitalist policies of market, private investment and competition, to develop a socialist market economy and society.  Whether they will succeed or not over time cannot of course be answered, but their attempts do not deserve to be prejudged

The Obama administration I would suggest has a great deal to learn from the Chinese government’s control of the banking system and its ability to channel capital investment into the Chinese economy through a planning process that makes “bailouts” reciprocal rather than a one way street.

We cannot look seriously at China and U.S. Chinese relations without looking at our political economy, power structure, and the policies which they have advanced

Note.  The following three paragraphs were not  presented because I was running out of time

 When we look at  rising Chinese inequality over the last  decades, which no one should of course support,  we should  remember  it has  developed in a context in which more people have been raised out of destitution poverty in China then in  any society in Human History over the last three decades

 The leadership of the Chinese Communist party deserves credit for having  deterred the “jungle capitalism” of 19th century Britain and the U.S, much less the brutal semi-colonial comprador capitalism that was China’s developing fate under Chiang Kai’ shek  before the barbaric Japanese invasion (and Chiang was trying to return to after the defeat of the Japanese imperialists) 

Higher levels of inequality in the U.S. during that time frame and in the nations of the NAT0 bloc have raised levels of real poverty everywhere and have been connected to economic stagnation, not real growth in the Keynesian sense of that, to the massive export of capital, and the creation of huge state, and in the U.S., crippling consumer debt, the latter providing super profits for finance capital and undermining what the Chinese leader Sun Yat –sen called the third principle of the people, the peoples livelihood.

 Today, a Marxist analysis of history can tell us is that there is no first world, second world,

third world anymore. The continuation of U.S. NAT0 bloc’s  anti-Soviet policies directed

against China, that is, spreading fears of Chinese “expansion” in Asia and calls to “contain”

China in military and political terms is senseless in the extreme. It is an example of the old

definition of reactionary, that is, learning nothing from real conditions and forgetting

nothing in terms of policy and advancing the same policies over and over again.  The

authoritarian Asian regimes that reactionaries hailed as Asian Tigers have been shown to be

paper tigers in regard to  political economy.  They have nothing to offer the U.S. as part of

an anti-Chinese alliance if that were possible.  Japan remains a major capitalist competitor

of the U.S.(and there are dangerous tendencies in Japan,  from what I have read, forces

seeking to abrogate the U.S. imposed postwar constitution which greatly limited Japan’s

military capacity, actions that are not in China’s or the U.S. interests) 

The 21st century, given

the distribution of world population and the dramatic  albeit different developments in India and China,  will in all likelihood is first and formost an Asian Century.  What kind of Asian century it will be will depend significantly onndeveloping U.S. Chinese relations. 

Let me conclude with a few suggestions for the issues of those relations

First, the development of  a clear co-existence policy that would defuse potential military conflicts in the Asia Pacific region and prevent arms races related to that region.

 Second, working with China in and through the United Nations in campaigns against world hunger, environmental destruction in the poor countries, global environmental policies, instead of self-righteously denouncing Chinese pollution and ignoring the positive achievements of Chinese scientists in ecology.  Third, the U.S. and China working together and with other nations through the United Nations social agencies  to develop regional fair labor standards for a global economy.


Finally, I would strongly suggest as a necessary concomitant to such policies  the dissolution of the NAT0 bloc.

Note: the following four paragraphs were also omitted because of time constraints

The U.S. through NATO continues to waste hundreds of billions of dollars in its adventures through the world and in maintaining military force against nonexistent enemies in Europe.  These policies would permit the U.S. to reduce its military spending by more than half, which would still  be first in the world and signicantly greater than China and also encourage China to reduce its non productive military spending


Some think that China will become a leader of a “Second World” including the BRIC nations, Brazil, Russia, India, China; that however is extremely unlikely and I would say  not something to be wished for either. 

A broad policy of Sino U.S, cooperation internationally and a changed U.S. Chinese economic relationship, one that encourages increased Chinese purchasing power, joint ventures, and bilateral trade agreements from which both China and the U.S. would learn from each other and the Chinese and American people would profit offers a much better and more realistic policy for Sino-U.S. relations

The Obama administration in its second term still is in a position to advance such policies, as the other major nations of the U.S. NAT0 bloc are not. 

 The U.S. is currently struggling to recover from a debilitating  more than three decades old  physical and mental illness—regressive, even infantile “neo liberal” capitalism or as I like to call it Friedmanitis. 

China, whatever it’s relatively recent feudal past, the devastating effects of imperialist intervention for its people, does not have that illness to worry about. 

U.S. Chinese cooperation of the kind that I have suggested, through the United Nations and other global venues, can also help eradicate that illness, which still acts to undermine the economic and thus social and political health of people throughout the world.

Some postscript comments from other panelists and the chair

The discussion which followed the presentations was rich interesting.  Professor Wei in her presentation dealt seriously and insightfully with the problem of economic inequality in China today, the dangers of over production and inadequate consumption, given the adaption of market economy from capitalism.  She also made the point that there are no models of socialism in the world today and that China, after initially adopting the Soviet model of central planning and no private business or market relations, has through trial and error and given the global necessity, moved toward the present socialist market economy.  Martin Rivlin dealt with very contemporary developments in both China and U.S. Chinese relations, was critical of Deng Shao p’ing’s  tactical implementation of his four modernizations, but was extremely critical of U.S. finger pointing at China in terms of both its economic policy and its “human rights policy.” 

In response to criticisms of China’s lack of “human rights” “labor’s rights” and “democracy” all of the panelists saw this as hypocritical in the extreme.   Chair Gary Hicks stated rightly that four years ago the Chinese Communist party and government demanded that Wal-Mart in China unionize and Wal-Mart did.  Today, Wal-Mart in the U.S. is both the leading employer of labor, non union, and notorious for its violation of overtime pay and other U.S. labor laws.  On the U.S. political system, Professor Wei mentioned that China does have a one party system and the U.S. a two party system , but the U.S. two party systems is controlled by the rich.  Professor Wei  contended that Chinese unions worked well for workers in the public sector but not well in the private sector where heads of firms bribed union representatives with stock issues.  She was also very frank about the problem of corruption in China.  I gave examples of corruption here and stated that the Chinese Communist Party had the power to effectively fight corruption.  Gary Hicks, in response to my comments concerning an adaption of Gus Hall’s concept of “Bill of  Rights Socialism” argued that China had already implemented in principle the first ten amendments to the constitution. 







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  • Comment below by same

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 06/18/2013 10:36am (7 years ago)

  • This is an outstanding and very timely discussion and deliberation for the working peoples of both China and the U. S. Thanks to brothers Norman Markowitz and Gary Hicks-and all other sisters and brothers who participate-in China and the U. S.
    The regional ramifications in Asia and the Mid-East are big.
    To ground ourselves in such a discussion, it is suggested that we look to our Communist, W. E. B. Du Bois, in his Soliloquy, his last autobiography. In this, we have a short, understandable analysis of Chinese history and the relationship of this to African American and African history.
    There are many suggestions and ramifications that come up for the international working class, and peoples of color, especially indigenous or native peoples throughout the globe. Including China among these peoples, make the vast majority of people on earth. The Marxist-Leninist is concerned with this majority and its earth.
    The current work done now at various Chinese universities, especially the work done by the Du Bois Institute, under Henry Louis Gates Jr., is very interesting, and should be applied in a context of other brilliant work, like that of the recent 50th Anniversary Conference, February 20-23, 2013, at Clark Atlanta University.
    These scholars and charges are bound, if serious, to investigate the Marxist commitment of our Du Bois, and how this permeated his massive body of work for the world's oppressed and the international working class.
    Most important in this, will be the application to the field of all this economics, sociology, psychology, history, literature with DIRECT ACTION, that of a matured Civil Rights revolution-its continuation on a new plane.
    Passing this legacy on to the present and future generations, with a focus on China, which is illuminated like a "fresh beacon of light" in our Du Bois's Chapter V in Soliloquy, would be the continuation of a tremendous Communist legacy(the legacy of "street heat"carried out by the workers of the world and their allies).

    Posted by , 06/18/2013 10:34am (7 years ago)

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