Originally run on Aug 12, 2019
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As the world’s poor and working people struggle against a paradigm of neoliberal hyper-capitalism, imperialist corporatocracy, and extreme inequality, the anti-capitalist movement within the first world is split between the factions which support the existing socialist states and [those] which share the capitalist class’ hostility towards them. We need to make sure that the former faction is the one which defines the narrative in the coming years.
This need for global socialists to openly and unapologetically align with the socialist states is prompted not just by the strategic necessity for building alliances with sympathetic foreign governments. It’s a matter of defending the truth, even amid pressure from our virulently anti-communist society to repeat all of the lies about the history of socialism.
One of the ways that anti-communists try to delegitimize the position of Marxists who align with the existing socialist states is by painting these Marxists as unreasonable ideologues. Yet this accusation is always used not in response to a lack of willingness on the part of these Marxists to criticize any aspect of the socialist states, but in response to even the slightest pushback against capitalist propaganda about these countries. Accusations of zealotry and denialism are the rhetorical tools that are used to shut down objections to capitalist propaganda about these countries.
The disingenuous nature of the anti-communist arguments has been shown in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR and the GDR. Despite the stereotype about Marxists like me being uncritical of socialist states, I believe there are legitimate critiques about the USSR’s leadership and their role in the country’s downfall; as Kim Il Sung has assessed, socialism collapsed in Russia and Germany “mainly because they neglected class education and abandoned the class struggle. After assuming state power, Khrushchev weakened the function of the dictatorship of the state as a weapon of the class struggle. As a result, socialism could not be defended in the Soviet Union.” But rather than frame the discussion about the Soviet Union’s fall in the vein of critiques like these, Trotskyites, social democrats, and other left anti-communists have since reinforced capitalist narratives about the event.
In its reflections on the fall of the USSR and the GDR, the Trotsky-aligned World Socialist Website has shifted the blame away from Khrushchev and defaulted on the standard Trotskyite scapegoating of “Stalinism.” One WSWS piece from 2009 even blamed “imperialism and its Stalinist agents” for the socialist movement’s failures, an incredibly ironic statement given how Trotskyism itself has been a massive ideological servant of neoconservative imperialism. These attempts from the Trotskyists to blame the shortcomings of Russia's revolution on Stalin and other Marxist-Leninists have given rhetorical ammunition to the pro-capitalists who seek to demonize all of history’s existing socialist states.
The anti-communist propaganda that’s been put out by Trotskyite groups like the International Socialist Organization-which attacked virtually all socialist governments as “not truly socialist”-has guided other leftist strains which seek to delegitimize communism and its achievements. The social democrat group the Democratic Socialists of America has stated in its official stance on the fall of the USSR and the GDR that “We applaud the democratic revolutions that have transformed the former Communist bloc.” Their justification for outright celebrating the return of capitalism in these countries is that “Just because their bureaucratic elites called them ‘socialist’ did not make it so,” a line of reasoning that’s been reinforced by Noam Chomsky’s take on communism; Chomsky has claimed that the Soviet system created a dynamic where “You start off as basically a Leninist who is going to be part of the Red bureaucracy. You see later that power doesn’t lie that way, and you very quickly become an ideologist of the right.”
These arguments rely on a lack of nuance, even as anti-communists accuse their opponents of being the ones who won’t look at the socialist states in a balanced way.
It’s true that the Soviet leadership partly failed in its efforts to build socialism; the communist historian Bruce Franklin wrote about the Soviet post-Stalin political class that “internally, they restored capitalism as rapidly as they could. By the mid-1960s, unemployment had appeared in the Soviet Union for the first time since the first Five Year Plan. By the end of the 1960s, deals had been made with German, Italian, and Japanese capitalism for the exploitation of Soviet labor and vast Soviet resources.”
Again, these kinds of criticisms are legitimate, and communists like Franklin and Kim Il Sung have articulated them. But the view of the USSR and the GDR that the DSA promotes is one which ignores the massive increases in living standards that these countries achieved, and that falsely attributes the exploitative aspects of their economic systems to socialism itself rather than to the pro-capitalist reforms. It’s a view which portrays the grievous losses in employment, social services, and working class political power that occurred in these countries as worthwhile because of the “democratic revolutions” that the fall of the Eastern Bloc is supposed to have represented. It’s a view which basically characterizes any systemic imperfection within a socialist state as a justification for destroying that state. Its purpose isn’t to constructively critique the socialist projects, it’s to paint them as an evil force that leftists should oppose with more ferocity than we should oppose capitalism itself.
How these tropes are being used against the modern socialist states
This is the logic that anti-communists are now applying to China, the DPRK, and the other modern countries which have substantially established socialism. Chomsky, whose views about the currently existing socialist states are in line with the mainstream American left, has boycotted Chinese Marxism conferences because of China’s justified enforcement of its laws against unauthorized unions, participated in the “Stop Repression in Hong Kong” campaign based on the misleading anti-communist narratives that Hong Kong’s capitalist factions have created, and claimed that “The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression” without bothering to look into the DPRK’s deeply democratic political structure or the totally unproven nature of the claims of north Korean human rights abuses.
The reasoning behind the attacks against these socialist countries from Chomsky and other left anti-communists comes from the same place as Chomsky’s simplistic vilification of the Soviet political class. As Michael Parenti has written in response to Chomsky’s statement about the typical Leninist becoming “an ideologist of the right”:
This stereotype is now being used to delegitimize the authority of Xi Jinping and his colleagues in the Chinese Communist Party. The propaganda tropes are the same as the ones which were directed against the Soviet leadership, as is the goal of breaking up a large and powerful socialist country which threatens American hegemony. The campaign to destroy the PRC resembles the one to destroy the USSR so much that this passage from a 1969 U.S. memorandum on sowing discord within Russia might as well be re-used almost verbatim for today’s China:
The primary objective is to stimulate and sustain pressures for liberalization and change from within the Soviet Union. The neuralgic points of this disaffection—desire for personal and intellectual freedom, desire for improvement in the quality of life, and the persistence of nationalism in Eastern Europe and among the nationality groups in the Soviet Union—are the main issues exploited by these projects. A secondary objective is to enlighten important third-country elites, especially political leaders and the public opinion shaping professions, about the repressive nature of the Soviet system and its imperialistic and self-aggrandizing foreign policy.
Just as the perpetrators of Western imperialism misleadingly painted the USSR as “imperialist” to rationalize their sabotage of it, they’re now claiming that China poses an imperialist threat to justify their campaign to strong-arm China into submission.
The rejection of nuance is central to all of the arguments for China being imperialist, from the Western myths about China’s “neo-colonial” actions in Africa to the denunciations of China’s protective military involvement in Syria and Venezuela to the false characterizations of China's socialist state foreign loans as being tools for exploitation. Any kind of foreign involvement by China is portrayed as imperialist by the country’s adversaries.
The other big parallel between the campaigns against the PRC and the USSR is the narrative that China’s government is completely undemocratic and unwilling to give its people any freedoms. This is the theme of the “pro-democracy” Hong Kong protests that have been promoted in the Western media throughout the last several months. Like the other “color revolutions” that the U.S. has been involved in, there’s a side to the story which negates the sinister view of the government that the protests are supposed to vindicate.
China is no dictatorship. Many leaders in Western democracies have been governing for far longer and with far less support than Xi Jinping has been, and China is still capable of voting Xi out of another term in the next election. There’s a good argument that China’s scrapping of presidential term limits has made the country more democratized rather than less, since China’s old system of term limits was made to ensure that the political class would be focused on present conditions instead of on future elections. The president himself also shares most of the central government’s power with the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, whose members are installed through a process of political gaming within the CCP that’s similar to the multi-party system of bourgeois democracies. The difference is that within the CCP, all members are expected to uphold the goals of Marxist-Leninism.
The ordinary participants in this democratic political process enjoy a form of democracy in the workplace, one which is almost infinitely superior to the tyrannical corporate structure that the majority of American workers are subjected to. The American Prospect has assessed that “[labor] organizers [in China] allow the Communist Party to respond either favorably or neutrally to their actions, rather than repressing them.” This was demonstrated in 2010, when a strike by workers in the Chinese Honda plant was met not by action from the local police but by an agreement to pay the workers 32 percent more; another example is when China’s City Watch factory workers won fair compensation in while the state-owned media reported on their 2011 strike.
These aspects of China’s economic system are ignored by the Western media, which always tries to portray China’s government as an oppressor of working people. Headlines about suicide nets in China’s factories are a common trope in these characterizations, but the existence of the nets isn’t an inherently good or bad thing; they’re simply a workplace safety measure. The powerful rhetorical imagery of the suicide nets creates a very one-sided atmosphere of discourse around China’s economic system. It creates an emotionally charged facet to the reality that there are varying forms of workplace ownership in China, and that sometimes the interests of the workers and the owners clash. Rather than demonizing the CCP as an evil force that makes workers commit suicide, we should be talking about the material complexities of China’s socialist project and offering constructive advice on how conditions for China’s people can be improved.
On the question of the amount of civil liberties that these Chinese voters and workers have, the best source to seek out isn’t the litany of alarmist American headlines which fearmonger about supposed unrestrained Chinese mass surveillance and “totalitarianism.” It’s actual Chinese people who’ve been interviewed about how democratic they consider their society to be.
“Democracy, as China purposes, is letting everyone be in power,” one Chinese woman said in an interview with the media outlet Asian Boss earlier this year. “As someone who’s part of the current generation, received an education and seen it while growing up,” said another Chinese citizen, “China is called ‘The People’s Republic of China.’ We are a country that’s governed by the people. Since we’re governed by the people, of course we’re democratic!...I’m not jealous about the ‘democracy’ in other countries. They shouldn’t be defining what democracy is.”
“I think there are restrictions on our democracy,” admitted another citizen. “Sometimes we need to use a VPN to receive foreign information, and some news is blocked. In this regard, I definitely think China should be more open. But I think China is gradually becoming more open. Compared to the Cultural Revolution, China is more open now.”
This criticism of Chinese censorship-one which was openly articulated to an interviewer in public-isn’t something that would take place in the repressive dystopia that China’s detractors describe the country as. A similar criticism can be made of north Korea, which makes a lot of information inaccessible to its residents by blocking out the global Internet in favor of an online network that mainly features content created from within the DPRK itself. But both of these countries otherwise allow information to come in and out of its borders in a fairly open way, and this openness both in their political speech and in their electoral systems has made them into highly functional societies.
The capitalist class is afraid of such a change happening, so it’s doing all it can to break apart the socialist states and the global movement that seeks to proliferate their anti-capitalist agenda.
All of these slanted portrayals of China and the DPRK (along with the propaganda against additional socialist governments like Cuba and Venezuela) come from a place of bad faith. They eschew helpful critiques of the socialist states that can lead to positive reforms, and direct people’s attention towards how these states can be destroyed altogether.
The consistently negative framing of China’s political and economic systems that we see in the Western press is a tool for shutting down productive discussions about socialism, and for making the topic into an exercise where anyone who critically supports China is denounced as an atrocity apologist. This highly emotional aspect to anti-communist propaganda is exacerbated by manufactured atrocity stories like the baseless claim that China has imprisoned “1 million” Uighur Muslims, a piece of disinformation which is comparable to the false claim from Nazi propagandists about Stalin having starved Ukraine.
The arbiters of America’s regime change campaigns are relying on these kinds of demagogic anti-communist claims to manufacture consent for their goals. Our government is working towards regime change in China, the DPRK, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and (in a subtler way) Cuba, and such propaganda is the imperialists’ instrument for controlling the narrative about them. Kim Jong Un, Nicolas Maduro, Daniel Ortega, and the Cuban leadership have all undergone the same kinds of character assassinations that Xi has, and their countries have all also been maligned as dictatorships that keep their people in poverty.
In the paragraph above, I’ve hyperlinked articles that debunk the propaganda about all of these countries. I urge people to share these articles around, along with the section within this essay that refutes the capitalist lies about China. We need to fight an information war against capitalist and imperialist propaganda, or else the U.S. will continue to be enabled to sabotage both the socialist countries and their non-socialist allies; America’s war campaigns against Russia and Iran ultimately have the purpose of weakening China, and of weakening the communist movement in the process.
The global communist movement has strong and growing support; Stalin’s approval among Russians has hit a record high of 70%, there’s a strong force of pro-Chinese protesters within Hong Kong, and four in ten Americans now have a positive view of socialism. These kinds of developments are what’s provoking the global capitalist oligarchs to organize right-wing protests in Hong Kong, destabilize Venezuela and Nicaragua, and move towards a renewed campaign against communism within the U.S. We can help overcome this global war on communism by countering the lies about the existing socialist states.
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