Mar 11th, 2024

Global Changes Call for New Theories

By Wan-Wen Chu

In recent years, the great turmoil in the international order has been due to the weakening of the West itself, especially a decline in the strength and leadership of US hegemony, which has become increasingly difficult for the U.S. to maintain over the international order. On the other hand, it stems from the revival of China, which has grown substantially in political, economic and military power and is relatively independent of the hegemonic control of the United States. Although China has repeatedly declared that it would not seek hegemony after its rapid rise, it has still triggered a sense of crisis in the weakened West. So far, the hegemonic United States has not shown tolerance or a willingness to adapt, but has increasingly expressed attempts to suppress China's rise, deepening the turmoil and uncertainty of the existing order.

After World War II, U.S. hegemony put forward a set of "universal" modernization discourses, which meant that developing countries could follow the West and develop successfully if they followed this ideal model. However, the third wave of democratization in the developing world has almost completely failed in terms of political modernization. China, which has not followed this model, has demonstrated strong national capacity to successfully maintain its sovereignty and promote development. In terms of economic development, the laissez-faire model advertised by the West has not led to the economic development for late-developing regions. Instead, East Asia and China, which have been able to successfully catch up, have adopted a policy model of state intervention. In other words, for backward regions in desperate need of development, the ideal model promoted by the West has largely failed, greatly reducing the credibility of Western models. China's rejuvenation is a most important change, but the theoretical statement is not yet complete. How to develop in the future and what is the vision of the international order still needs to be further explored.

We must thoroughly review prevailing theories and understand their limitations before we can begin to understand today's changes and we must take a historical perspective. The post-World War II international order was not an inevitable or normal result of human progress, but was led by the United States using its hegemonic power to dominate the world. The key factor in the turmoil of today's world order is how the hegemonic United States responds to its own weakening and reverses the trend.

China is a civilization different from Western Europe, and after more than a hundred years of transformation, it has finally joined the international economic system and accumulated strength in all aspects, but it does not mean that China fully accepts the civilization values and orientations of Western Europe. China's transformation stemmed primarily from self-defense rather than its need for expansion.

For hundreds of years, Western civilization has dominated the world, and hegemony has been shifting between Western countries, no matter how fierce and cruel their competition with each other was, each new hegemony still establishes a new order and is accepted by other Western countries. Now the challenge comes from the East, which is a challenge on multiple levels. For the West to step down from its position as the dominant player in the world for hundreds of years, there is no doubt that an overall psychological adjustment is required. This change is also a great challenge for China. From the perspective of the rise and fall of long-term civilizations, the advantages and disadvantages of the Western model have become apparent all at once. China has also learned from the West and adjusted its own model, but further development involves more difficult choices.

The capitalist system and its hegemony in Western Europe is only part of human history, and it is beginning to weaken. Only with such an understanding can we break away from the inertia of Western hegemonic thinking and understand that the present is a moment of historical transformation. It implicates the transformation of the Western-led global capitalist system, and also implicates how China, a civilization different from the West, seeks to draw from its own traditions to imagine an international order different from the previous Western hegemonic systems. It changes the logic of hegemonic struggle and explores China's proper position in the world. The challenge is undoubtedly daunting, but it is also inescapable.

Wan-wen Chu (瞿宛文) is Adjunct Research Fellow at Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica.

The Duality of Capital and Chinese Socialist Modernization

By Zhou Jianming

China's socialist modernization is carried out in accordance with the overall layout of "five-in-one" economic, political, cultural, social and ecological civilization construction. In the course of economic construction, people have recognized the inevitability of the existence of the market economy and the private economy and formed the policy of "unswervingly consolidating and developing the public ownership economy and unswervingly encouraging, supporting and guiding the development of the non-public economy." At present, the proportion of private market entities by count is as high as 98%, accounting for more than 60% of GDP, contributing more than 50% of tax revenue, more than 70% of technological achievements and more than 80% of urban jobs. Private economy and capital have become an important part of the national economic foundation. However, from the perspective of the overall layout of the "five-in-one", we cannot ignore the negative role of the private economy and capital.

Political construction mainly focuses on the building of the party and the government. With the growth of the private economy with capital as the main body, it tries to make the rules for the exercise of public power proceed according to the equivalent exchange of interests, find its own agents among the holders of public power, use finance as a means to obtain public power and "hunt" public power. From 2012 to 2022, discipline inspection and supervision authorities nationwide filed more than 4.648 million cases of cadre corruption, and punished more than 200,000 cadres at all levels for bribery and being bribed. Through bribing officials and buying official positions within People's Congresses at all levels, capital has also directly used money to buy political power, nakedly reflecting capital's attempt to influence the composition of state power institutions and the appointment of cadres in order to override political power.

In cultural construction, by the logic of the market economy, capital turns people into "economic people" who pursue the maximization of their own interests; taking quid pro quo as the universal norm of social relations and reducing human relations to the calculation of interests and measuring them in general equivalent money. It promotes the endless covetousness among the people along with the unbridled appropriation of wealth, political power and social capital. Capital infringes on the interests of workers and evades social responsibility for the sake of profit, thus causing labor-management conflicts and endangering social stability. Many private enterprises did not compensate workers for overtime work in favor of excess profits. In 2003~2009, the total social arrears of China's private enterprises were estimated to reach 4.1 trillion yuan (or equiverlent to 600 billion US dollars), accounting for 9% of the total profits in the same period and 6% of total labor remuneration. Social arrears have taken the form of tax evasion, arrears in the payment of social insurance to workers, and evasion of workers' compensation for work-related injuries. Together, all the above have become an important reason for widening social inequality.

In the process of rapid industrialization, capital prefers economies of scale in order to reduce costs, which brings high consumption of resources and a large amount of pollutant emissions, aggravating environmental degradation and other negative externalities. In order to pursue excess profits, capital has a strong impulse to break through the red line of ecological and environmental protection, collude with local governments to destroy the ecological environment and discharge pollution in violation of regulations.

Proceeding from the overall layout of the "five-in-one", we can clearly see the dual positive and negative roles of capital in socialist modernization. To comprehensively understand the duality of capital in socialist modernization, we must not only prevent the exclusion of capital from rigid theory, but also guard against ignoring the negative role of capital. In this sense, the Party's understanding and leadership of the duality of capital will directly affect the success of Chinese-style socialist modernization.

Zhou Jianming (周建明) was Director of the Institute of Sociology, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. He is a senior researcher at Department of Political Science of the CITIC Foundation for Reform and Development Studies.


Developmental Socialism: Chinese Modernization and the Direction of World Socialism

By Yao Zhongqiu

The theoretical conceptualization offered by Marx and Engels is: the contradiction between the socialization of large-scale industrial production and capitalist private ownership is becoming increasingly fierce. They propose to finally break through the shackles of the latter and move towards socialism. Thus, socialism (strictly speaking, communism) will first appear in the most industrially developed and capitalist countries, the industrialized productive forces will be liberated and the abundance of material wealth will be deployed for more comprehensive human development. However, history did not evolve in this way, and around the world, socialism took place in a great divergence:

In the process of industrialization in Western Europe, social contradictions intensified, and Marxism combined with the workers' movement to form a social democratic party that lead the socialist movement. However, after the industrialization of Western European countries, surpluses increased. More importantly, Western countries then became imperialist, reaping world-scale profits and importing them into the country for redistribution. As a result, the income of the working class increased, and the social democratic party gradually identified with the capitalist economic system and the bourgeois state system. It became satisfied with the distribution of welfare, which formed distributional socialism. In China, socialism was transformed into a mechanism of development, embodied in at least two dimensions:

First, the CPSU and the CCP led the state to "de-linking" or decoupling from the capitalist world system, thereby constructing national developmental autonomy, which is the political prerequisite for latecomer countries to achieve development in an absolutely unequal world system.

Second, China created a party-centric industrialization model: first, based on historical materialism, it formed a firm will to industrialization; second, it established the political will to maintain autonomy in the world system, shaping the industrialization model of heavy industry-first; Third, it chose internal accumulation. To this end, the party continued the "social revolution" after completing the political revolution and establishing political power. Its leadership achieved comprehensive coverage and in-depth penetration of all fields of the country and built a set of national development mechanisms centered on the Party, so as to achieve "forces concentrated on socialist modernization".

Development-oriented socialism was founded by Vladimir Lenin, developed by Joseph Stalin, and perfected by China. Since the 1970s in the last century, China has carried out a series of major reforms, but on the whole it has maintained the development of the socialist system. The success of Chinese-style modernization is equivalent to the successful journey of development-oriented socialism, proving that socialism is a feasible road to modernization, and it is entirely possible for the vast developing world to achieve economic and social development through development-oriented socialism.

Developmental socialism is also the only viable realistic form of scientific socialism. In the context of Marxist historical materialism, socialism is not about the overcoming of cultural criticism or alienation, but is the inevitable product of the productive forces constantly opening new paths for themselves. The historical legitimacy of socialism lies in the liberation of productive forces, and the vitality of socialism lies in the sustained development of productive forces. Distributive socialism in Western Europe is only a parasitic feature of the capitalist-imperialist world system and has no universal application. Only as a development mechanism that allows a growing number of people in the world to improve their material living conditions and achieve development in all aspects can socialism defeat capitalism morally and politically and become the road to achieving social progress and human development in all aspects.

Yao Zhongqiu (姚中秋) is professor at the School of International Studies and dean of the Centre for Historical Political Studies, Renmin University of China.

Copyright notice: This page is translated by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung from original Chinese articles abridged in Beijing Cultural Review. The original articles were published in Beijing Cultural Review, Vol. 1, 2023 (February issue). Copyright is retained by the authors. Reproduction is subject to permission from the authors, Beijing Cultural Review and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

What and how is China debating itself? “Debate Unblocked: Wenhua Zongheng” allows a glimpse into a Chinese discourse by looking at China discussing its opportunities and visions, but also failures and contradictions. The bi-monthly journal Wenhua Zongheng (Beijing Cultural Review) is one of the most important intellectual debate-journals in China in recent years, that regards itself as an explicitly socialist discourse space in search for solutions in the face of China's various modernization crises resulting from the rapid transformation. Featuring regularly articles from Wenhua Zongheng gives insight into a complex and diverse debate taking place in China.

What and how is China debating itself? “Debate Unblocked: Wenhua Zongheng” allows a glimpse into a Chinese discourse by looking at China discussing its opportunities and visions, but also failures and contradictions. The bi-monthly journal Wenhua Zongheng (Beijing Cultural Review) is one of the most important intellectual debate-journals in China in recent years, that regards itself as an explicitly socialist discourse space in search for solutions in the face of China's various modernization crises resulting from the rapid transformation. Featuring regularly articles from Wenhua Zongheng gives insight into a complex and diverse debate taking place in China.

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Wenhua Zongheng (Beijing Cultural Review) is an independent Chinese academic journal covering politics, economics and cultural reviews from intellectuals in a range of fields. It was founded in 2008. Wenhua Zongheng explores the solution to the cultural continuity crisis that has emerged along with modern China. In the past decades, Wenhua Zongheng has organised and gathered more than 1,200 scholars to engage over 200 important topics and plays a leading role in shaping the contemporary global conversation around Chinese social discourse and values.


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