The Transformation of Chinese Socialism

The Transformation of Chinese Socialism

by Chun Lin

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In this significant contribution to both political theory and China studies, Lin Chun provides a critical assessment of the scope and limits of socialist experiments in China, analyzing their development since the victory of the Chinese communist revolution in 1949 and reflecting on the country’s likely paths into the future. Lin suggests that China’s twentieth-century trajectory be grasped in terms of the collective search by its people for a modern alternative to colonial modernity, bureaucratic socialism, and capitalist subordination. Evaluating contending interpretations of the formation and transformation of Chinese socialism in the contemporary conditions of global capitalism, Lin argues that the post-Mao reform model must be remade.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822388364
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 05/18/2006
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
File size: 595 KB

About the Author

Lin Chun teaches comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the editor of the three-volume collection China and the author of The British New Left.

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The Transformation of Chinese Socialism

By Lin Chun

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8836-4


China and Alternative Modernity

LOCATING CHINA, A COUNTRY OF "CONTINENTAL CHARACTER" (WEBER 1951,100), in relation to the spatio-temporal notions of "modernity" and "modernization" is no easy task. This is especially the case because the concept of "history" itself has come to be so contested. The construal of history is now more than ever loaded with epistemological, methodological, and ideological controversies (cf. Dirlik 2000). Writers who mount a contemporary defense of attainable objectivity and "truth telling" gesture toward three main schools of twentieth-century historical interpretation-Marxism, the French Annales, and U.S. modernization theory—which share a conviction of the scientific nature and universal applicability of their respective theories. This shared conviction "helped foster a Western history that aimed to homogenize the study of all other places and times into general Western models of historical development" (Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob 1994, 78-79). Without engaging the relevant debates, here I will posit the minimal intellectual need to sustain a "grand narrative" constituting elements of each of these schools while bearing in mind their constant internal tensions. Such a narrative is indispensable, for within the limit of conceptual tools presently at our disposal, no specific trajectory could otherwise be intelligibly counted. The notion of modernity is itself a profoundly universal generalization premised on a broad understanding of historical movements. But the price of accepting (as critically as we may try to do) a "master scale" of European origin that has dominated thinking and communicating elsewhere (and everywhere) is, of course, that non-European histories are made compliant with the teleology of modernization.

This metahistorical paradigm has been a problem, politically and psychologically, for modern thinkers in the Global South since long before postcolonial theory or multiculturalism became fashionable. Many of those involved in national liberation lived with the paradox of being at once revolutionary nationalists and devoted learners of Western modernity. Chinese development is not free of the modern teleology, yet what distinguishes it from its counterparts in most third world societies is the way in which it presents an alternative to capitalist development on the one hand, and to capitalist or noncapitalist underdevelopment on the other. This alternative, in the mold of the Bolshevik revolution but also a deviation from Stalinist statism, breaks down the received equation between third world modernization and capitalism, thereby liberating the meaning of modernity in the peripheries from the interpretive confines of a false Eurocentric universality. The use of such common terms as "developed" and "underdeveloped" (and "first" and "third"; "advanced" and "backward") requires an awareness of their ideologically charged implications. Dependency theorists, for example, insist on a causality between the developed core of the world system and "the development of underdevelopment" in the subordinate zones, pinning down global exploitation through unequal accumulation and exchange. But if a time-bound developmental perspective projected spatially is nothing but a "colonial representation," to discard it would first entail normative socioeconomic and political-institutional measurements established in the capitalist West being redefined and reclaimed—if not altogether replaced.

I begin my argument by situating China's modern path in the epochal conditions created by international capitalism. In so doing I critique the notion of singular modernity, and I clarify Eurocentrism in an open perspective of history. In stressing that the globally transformative power of capital cannot be limitless, I next trace China's twentieth-century revolutions in their nationalist resistance to imperialist impingement as a manifestation of the fragmentation of the "totality" of capitalism. It is, however, the political and social dimensions of the communist revolution that set China apart from its neighbors undergoing capitalist colonial or conservative modernization. In the final pages of this chapter I briefly discuss the problematic discourse of "Asia," which ignores these differences.

Globalization and Noncapitalist Development

Capitalism, emanating from Europe, is intrinsically globalist in its drive to conquer new markets. In its earlier stages this conquest took the form of direct colonization; later, other forms of globalization came into play. The world's present political, economic, and financial order (as well as a great deal of cultural production) has been largely shaped by global capitalism and various responses to its expansion. Indeed, as noted by Marx, "world history" began with the epoch of capitalism. This "epoch" has been characterized by an unprecedented amount of communication and interaction, dictated by market forces and their ideology of free trade, which no longer preserves any "Chinese walls" or permits effective "delinking" by regions from the globe. The continuities between domestic affairs, on the one hand, and external, "epochally specific transnational parameters" on the other increasingly outweigh traditionally sustained discontinuities. The impact of world capitalism on any sizable human societies as both political-economic units and sites of cognitive-cultural trends is inescapable to the degree that long-term isolated development becomes impossible. Consequently, in the "age of capital," postindustrial problems intertwine with problems of industrialization while at the same time there is a lessening of the many previously rigid demarcations that had been understood to mark different developmental stages in culture, imagination, and identity.

That said, capitalism is not stable and cannot homogenize the globe despite its ability to convert, absorb, or eliminate dissent. It has, rather, evolved and reformed through triumphs and crises, and has itself been in flux or hybridism at its expanding frontiers. Globalization, if taken as the incorporation of the global market into national and regional communities (not a new phenomenon), is a two-way movement. Local-global interactions have been instruments of change for both parties. Individual states and societies as willing or reluctant participants, if led by a legitimate regime with determination and public support, may retain their specific goals and identities. In such cases, the agenda and consequences of globalization are modified by local conditions. World history, locally based and accommodating, encompasses "localized spaces, globalized places" (Luke 1997), and is at most a "paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity" (Berman 1983,15). Capitalism with inherent contradictions never was, and still cannot be, a monolith. It splits not least between a welfare democracy gradually nurturing a "social model" (as germinated in the European Union) and a structural North-South divide, a divide that is often also internal to rich and poor nations alike. The newly industrialized countries (NICS) scattered here and there are strictly comparable to neither form. Meanwhile, commercial standardization and the universalization of the distribution of knowledge in the media or social sciences also breed opposition. The Forum on the Global South, the Forum World for Alternatives, and the World Social Forum are examples of mobilization from below against the neoliberal push for globalization.

Capitalism, Eurocentrism, and Open History

The local maneuverability of globalized norms is even more likely in vast and unevenly developed countries. As the Chinese saying goes (as quoted by Mao Zedong to explain the elastic space for guerrilla movement), "If there isn't light in the east, the west must be bright; if darkness shrouds the south, let's go to the north." In defiance of any defeatism in the face of powerful enemies, the sense here of subjective capacity and contingency in a flexible reaction to shifting balances of power is beyond military strategy. China (and, for that matter, many other large countries) is one country but many worlds. Its increasingly fluid outer borders and formidable internal boundaries have encouraged a deconstructivist treatment of "China" as a "false unity" of analysis. This critical tendency features a "bifurcation of linear [national] histories" through provincial narratives (Duara 1995, 51), the reconceptualization of local-central-global relations (e.g., Goodman and Segal 1994), and the dubious discourses of cross-border "Chinese networks" and "greater China" (Hamilton 1999; Harding 1993). But this treatment is at most about plural or multiple capitalisms, leaving possible alternatives to capitalism uncounted. Yet history does not end—rather there exist historical limits to capitalism as a particular mode of material and spiritual production as much as a global epoch, hence its rise and fall.

Debates over Eurocentrism, apart from an obviously valid assessment of its "original sin" of despising non-European "peoples without history," and its failure to appreciate the initial contributions by other cultures to European achievements, are relevant to my argument only insofar as the Eurocentric outlook permits a conflation between modernity and capitalism. This conflation, however, is feeble, even though industrialism's (and lately a knowledge economy) and liberalism's fin de siècle paradigm of formal liberal democracy, the hallmarks of modernity, were indeed first successfully advanced in the capitalist market. These benchmarks of economic modernization and political democratization have been insisted on (and with condescension) in non-Western societies, and this repetition has been with extraordinary confidence seen to reaffirm the fabricated universality of European precedence. Indeed, the "West is now everywhere, within the West and outside: in structures and minds" (Nandy 1983, xii). So long as developments are measured and compared on the scale of modernity, anti-Eurocentrism—as antimodern, not anticapitalist—is ultimately a losing battle.

If Eurocentrism has been under fire from critics in both conservative political science and radical social theory and cultural studies, these critics have thus far failed to come up with any systematic alternatives to Eurogenetic "universal goods." To be sure, the commitments to humane compassion, impartial fairness, personal dignity, and moral authority are by no means specifically European and are evident in Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other non-European traditions. But certain other values do have their roots in the epoch-making events following the European scientific revolution—the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment; the Dutch and English industrial transformation; and the French and American revolutions. At the forefront of such values are those of economic and technological advancement for the well-being of humans, scientific rationality, constitutionalism and representative democracy, and individually based human rights. Each value may indeed be subject to moral and intellectual challenges or institutional modification from a variety of viewpoints; but none, so far, have been solidly overturned and still do not seem to be replaceable. Even the powerful ecological rejection of the concept of "conquering nature" will not succeed until and unless development per se can be forsaken without impeding new modes of production and consumption that can satisfactorily support a growing global population. This may explain why, despite extensive emotion and energy, critiques of Eurocentrism have achieved little beyond the recognition of major influences from outside geographical Europe on the construction of modern values. Such values have spread and been reinterpreted in and by their new settings, mostly and ironically through decolonization, reforms, and revolutions. But they are nonetheless shared legacies of a human civilization. In referring to universal rights and speaking to cultural relativists, David Harvey argues that "to turn our backs on such universals at this stage in our history, however fraught or even tainted, is to turn our backs on all manner of prospects for progressive political action" (2000, 94). After all, "historical capitalism" is not the only thing of European nature, nor is it merely toxic. If the Enlightenment "is the line both of destruction and of civilization" (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, 92), "Europe" also represents struggles for freedom, equality, and fraternity as much as it does imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism.

"Eurocentrism" is thus a confusing label when applied in the absence of a distinction between "modern" and "capitalist" development outside the terrain of Europe (e.g., Negri and Hardt 2000,81-82). Lost in the confusion is not only the reality that capitalism is not required for a society to be or become modern (that is, as it implies industrialism, nationalism, secularism in the public sphere, education and literacy, stratification and specialization, and so on); also lost is the space for alternative structures. Yet "capitalism" cannot be held responsible for everything modern, neither for the undeniable social achievements of anticapitalist regimes nor for the equally visible noncapitalist forms of exploitation, repression, and destruction. As such, it is modernization within the parameters of global capitalism, not the capitalist method of modernization, that is inescapable if we agree that the invention of modernity and globality has virtually eliminated their outsiders. Still, this invention does not put a hold on time but "opens itself up to the novelty of the future" (Habermas 2000, 5). Indeed, the pressure of time only intensifies internal tensions and contradictions in the realm of the modern, making it transitory while making the present historical. By marking time globally and transculturally, and thereby universalizing temporal identities across spatial entities, modernity has otherwise come to be a neutral signifier in the Weberian horizon.

Encountering a radical Eurocentrist is a rare experience these days. But Eurocentric errors and bias have endured far more effectively in those critics who argue for the discovery of culturally defined "multiple modernities" (Eisenstadt 2000) that allow no distinction between development and capitalism, or between modernization and capitalist transformation. No doubt, capitalist development itself varies in types and shapes. Timing, circumstances, elite choices, and collective action may all function to yield "one system, many models" (cf. Coates 2000; Hall and Soskice 2000). But a real turnaround in the debate would only come when steps were taken to separate modernity and capitalism, even taking into account the end of historical communism, whatever judgment might be passed on its many versions and dimensions. That there is a seemingly superior model that is of Western origin and at once capitalist, developed, modern, and dominant, cannot obliterate other modern projects, certainly not that of socialist development as consciously modern and deliberately anticapitalist. Whether that project remains a viable alternative within the epochal conditions of global capitalism (where it has been from the outset), and whether it can transcend those conditions, is another issue. Dipesh Chakrabarty calls the Eurocentric discourse "history 1" (European modernity), which suppresses the experiences of "history 2s" or colonial modernity, as vividly narrated in his Indian and Bengali cases (2000). But there must also, then, be "history 3s" in the same terms of capital or culture: those revolutionary and socialist modernities that intend to break free of the ideological genealogy of Europe and its colonial extensions. In so doing, these new "histories" will also transform the existing paradigm of modernity itself.

However, neither multiple modernities nor multiple histories are capable of generating an alternative theory of world development in its logical and conceptual totality, a world which culminated in global capitalism. The political and intellectual price paid for refusing to distinguish between modernity and capitalism, or reducing capitalism to a matter of cultural Eurocentrism, has been high. The Eurocentric positions, now refined and adjusted to more pluralist and multicultural perspectives, are stronger than ever before. Ethnocentric and cultural relativist demands gain ground only in forms of "inverted Eurocentrism" (Amin 1989, 136, 147). What is by-passed in the entire discourse is a sustained critique of capitalism that is intrinsic to typical Euro-American prejudice. Also missing are genuine alternatives, past, present, and future, to capitalist development, and therefore an alternative political sociology of global evolution to account for the historicity and transformation of capitalism. These are issues of irony and hypocrisy most strikingly manifested in the gulf between capital accumulation and concentration in the northern zones of the globe and the typical Eurocentric demand of impoverished nations to "catch up" with those ahead in the game. Capitalism, in reality, continues to destroy the myth of Eurocentrism, and it does so by depriving non-Western societies of the means to modernize in the approved combination of free market and democratic institutions. Pockets of "late development" do not alter the picture. What alone speaks volumes about the self-contradiction of prevalent ideologies is the fact that the core countries, through international financial and lending institutions, collect from their former colonies billions of dollars annually in debt repayment.


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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction: The Making and Remaking of the Chinese Model 1

1. China and Alternative Modernity 17

2. Chinese Socialism 60

3. People’s Democracy 132

4. Liberty and Liberation 205

Conclusion: Rethinking the Chinese Model 251

Notes 289

References 323

Index 359

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