By John Ross
The following is the Preface to the European edition of my book “China’s Great Road”. The book is available at an introductory price of £16 or €17.95 from https://redletterspp.com/collections/summer-special/products/chinas-great-road
The accumulated achievements of China since its revolution of 1949 are so great that they have now not only changed the world but must lead every socialist and progressive person to think about their relation to them. This is a situation only comparable to the way Russia’s 1917 revolution transformed the world – many other powerful progressive struggles took place, but the period from 1917 until the destruction of the USSR in 1991 may be described globally as dominated by the “Soviet period of development of socialism.” Whether in agreement or disagreement every socialist current in the world had to define itself in relation to Soviet experience.
Today the world, particularly socialists, faces a similar gigantic fact. China, after its revolution, has achieved the greatest improvement in life of by far the largest proportion of humanity of any country in human history. From China being almost the world’s poorest country in 1949, in only 72 years, a single lifetime, China has risen to the brink of a high-income economy by international classification – something to be achieved by 2022-23. This is not simply economic success but an incalculable improvement in the living standards, life expectancy, education, culture and numerous other dimensions of human welfare for one fifth of humanity – 1.4 billion people. Since 1978 China has lifted 853 million people out of poverty by international classification, three out of every four people in the world lifted from poverty.
So great is the impact of that that the world has indeed globally entered into the “China period of development of socialism.” Due to the gigantic scale of these facts every socialist in the world has to, and will increasingly be led, to define themselves in relation to China – whether in overall support or overall opposition.
The gigantic scale of China’s step forward for humanity has implications for every person on the planet. If the 84% of humanity living in developing countries could emulate what China has achieved, making the transition from very low to high living standards, a very large part of the problems facing humanity would be solved. Which social system achieved such a giant step forward for humanity, socialism or capitalism, and what can be learnt from it, is a decisive question for every thinking person.
The aim of my book “China’s Great Road” is therefore to explain how China achieved this enormous step forward for humanity. The unequivocal answer the book gives is that socialism achieved this huge advance. It analyses this at numerous different levels.
The first chapters establish factually the unprecedently huge scale of China’s improvement in human living conditions. The next chapters show that China’s success was because it followed a course in line with Marx and Marxism – naturally as applied in China’s specific conditions but with universal lessons. Finally, because China’s vast improvement in human living conditions, and therefore human rights, is of the greatest importance not only to Marxists but to all progressive members of humanity it outlines how China’s success can be explained even in terms of Western theories. So, the book’s aim is that many different readers can understand what China’s giant success means for human kind.
The book also notes that if the international left does not raise itself to understanding China’s successful socialist development it is lagging in understanding of one of the most enormous facts in human history.
Slogans such as “neither Washington nor Beijing” are absurd when considered from human wellbeing’s viewpoint. The 853 million people China lifted from poverty is more than twice the US population, more than the European Union’s entire population, more than Latin America’s population.
For example, the creation of the welfare state in Western Europe was a giant event by normal standards – although it was created in large part by the impact of the USSR’s victory over fascism and consequent capitalist fear of socialism spreading to Western Europe. But even such a deeply progressive event is small compared to the improvement in the conditions of humanity created by socialist China.
In international politics it is equally purposeless to make an equivalence between the US, which has launched numerous reactionary wars and sanctions – against Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, support of Israel against Palestine, against Cuba and Venezuela – with China. China opposed the Vietnam war, opposed the Iraq war, aided Cuba and Venezuela, has condemned Israel’s aggression against Palestine.
China’s lessons are vital for those in countries fighting for a progressive and socialist way forward – such as Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and others. Because China’s huge success shows that socialism works – it delivers gigantic improvements in living conditions not as a future dream but as a practical solution to today’s problems. It shows that socialism, not capitalism, brings by far the greatest improvement to human living conditions.
Such gigantic achievements for humanity’s wellbeing do not need exaggeration or prettification. Such an enormous step as to lift 1.4 billion people from being almost the world’s poorest to the living standard of a high-income economy, or to take 853 million people from poverty, does not mean every problem is solved. It simply places other issues in perspective. China still has to deal with some of the legacies of its unprecedented economic and social development – regarding climate change, for example, this will affect all humanity.
China, and its Marxism, shows in practice, in the real world, how the conditions of billions of human beings can be dramatically improved. To take a comparison to another current influential in the West, “Western Marxism” has achieved precisely nothing comparable for the welfare of humanity. Those who create obstacles for the international left to learn from China, and propose other ways forward which have delivered nothing in comparison, therefore create obstacles for the advance both of socialism and humanity.
Naturally, no country can mechanically copy China – every country is specific. But the elements of which that national situation is made up are universal in character and are analysed in Marxism. It is the combination of these forces and their application in every situation which is specific.
For related reasons of its huge steps forward for humanity every progressive person should opposed the new US cold war against China. China itself does not propose to any country to copy it. But just as China learnt from Marxism, developed by Germans, and Russia’s revolution, to develop its own analysis of China, socialists in every other country can learn from China to analyse their own reality. The aim of this book is therefore both to analyse China’s reality and to show how socialists in other countries can and should learn from China.
The above article previously was published here by Learning from China.