International speakers illustrate the battle for ideas in socialist China

Report on the Fourth World Socialism Forum in Beijing.

On behalf of the CPGB-ML, Comrades Harpal Brar and Ella Rule recently attended the Fourth World Socialism Forum, organised by the World Socialism Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), and the Centre for Contemporary World Studies of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCCPC).

The theme of this year’s forum was ‘The current situation and the development trend of world socialism and leftist thoughts’. Held on 30-31 October at the conference hall of CASS, it hosted 91 participants, including 22 from abroad.

The general consensus at the symposium was that socialism, being a far superior system to capitalism, had a bright future – indeed, the only future for humanity; that capitalism, far from being the final destination, was merely a transitional stage in the long march of humanity from primitive communism to the higher stage of communism.

There was also general agreement that imperialism, especially US imperialism, was on the decline and that socialism was on the up again after the terrible reverses suffered in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and east European socialist countries. It was pointed out that the latest economic crisis, while undermining the legitimacy of capitalism, had served to raise high the prestige of Marxism Leninism; and that the balance of power was definitely shifting away from US imperialism and other imperialist countries and towards the socialist countries and the Brics economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The only area in which US imperialism still reigns supreme is the military. In 2013, the US spent $633bn on the military, accounting for 5 percent of its GDP, 20 percent of its government budget, and 44 percent of global military spending. But even this colossal outlay is increasingly becoming a source of weakness, since the declining economic strength of the US will not be able to cope for very much longer with this huge military burden.

The present crisis, which began in 2007, marked the beginning of the end of US hegemony – economically, ideologically and politically. Even in the military field, despite its huge arsenal of the most sophisticated weapons ever seen, the US and its junior imperialist partners have lost in the battlefield in Iraq and are losing in Afghanistan.

All in all, there was broad agreement that capitalism was a failed system, fully confirmed by the latest crisis of capitalism, which at the same time served to confirm the validity of socialism and of Marxism Leninism.

For all their generally positive reinforcement of socialism, one of the major weaknesses revealed at the symposium was a lack of clarity and agreement among the participants as to the cause of the demise of the USSR and east European socialist countries. Unless this question is satisfactorily dealt with, however, the working-class movement will not be equipped to make real progress.

Comrade Halabi from the USA, while not providing an answer to this crucial question, nevertheless emphasised the cardinal importance of so doing in the following vivid and colourful terms: “Why should the masses get on our airplane if several flights have crashed, and we cannot explain why?”

Massimo D’Alema: representing the capitalist elements

Standing out from the generally progressive and positive nature of most of the contributors, were a few whose motivations seemed to be just the opposite of the majority. A particularly renegade contribution – calculated to confuse, disorientate and demoralise the proletariat; to undermine its faith in a bright socialist future and to make it lose faith in its ability to bring about such a system – was made by Massimo D’Alema, a former Italian prime minister.

According to him, 20th-century socialism was a utopia that “belongs to the past”. “We have definitely left behind,” he said, “some of the utopias we have been pursuing in the last century, starting with the idea that the state should fully control production. An idea that has unfortunately caused inefficiencies and stagnation.”

Instead of working for the overthrow of capitalist imperialism, establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat and building socialism, Signor D’Alema advised that the left (he has given up on the proletariat) must work to “impose new rules on a global level to fight financial speculation, tax havens” and promote a “cooperative model”.

“A modern left must,” he said, “fight to impose rules to limit the predominance of finance and speculation … promote economic cooperation on an international level, to control unrestrained competition … encourage harmonious development, reducing inequalities between the extreme poverty of the many and the huge wealth of the few.” It must protect “the environment and human life”; it must “promote freedom and human rights … true democracy, enabling every citizen to be an active part of a country’s political life, regardless of his or her ideas and beliefs”.

This ‘modern left’ must work for “non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”, a “multilateral system of international relations” and a long list of other reforms.

As to the composition of this modern left, it must include, according to D’Alema, not just the communist parties but also every kind of social-democratic organisation, including, believe it or not, the Democratic Party in the US, which he described as having given a “deep turn” to American politics “after the neo-conservative season and the war in Iraq”!

If he can equate the murderous Obama regime with the politics of peace, it is clear that Signor D’Alema has lost all contact with reality. Reminding us of Tolstoy’s fool, who greeted mourners at a funeral procession with a cheery “Many happy returns of the day”, Mr D’Alema concluded with a clarion call for “refounding a new, open and representative left after the great utopias of the twentieth century” – a task which, he said, “requires less ideological vision and more pragmatism”.

Mr D’Alema certainly deserves praise for his candour (if nothing else) in so openly propagating a renegades’ charter that no genuine proletarian party with any sense or self-respect would ever accept.

Comrade Harpal: the contemporary world

Comrade Harpal, meanwhile, pointed out that the contemporary capitalist world is characterised by the deepest-ever economic crisis. He explained that, though the crisis first manifested itself in the near-meltdown of the financial edifice of imperialism, at bottom it is a crisis of overproduction.

As a result of having to rescue the failing banks, the governments themselves are now facing bankruptcy, and have thus transformed the banking crisis into a sovereign debt crisis. To make matters worse, the austerity measures taken by these governments to tackle their unsustainable debts are piling huge burdens on to the working class and broad masses of the people – and are therefore only making the overproduction crisis worse, since they are further reducing demand by lowering wages and increasing unemployment.

At the same time as attacking the working class at home, the imperialist powers are busy waging wars against the oppressed peoples abroad – from Iraq, Palestine and Libya to Afghanistan and Syria – and are gearing themselves up for even bigger wars against China and Russia.

Imperialism and war are inseparable, said Comrade Harpal, adding that the crisis of imperialism is driving it inexorably to war. Unless stopped by proletarian revolution, imperialism is bound to plunge the world into an unprecedented war of horrific proportions that will lead to the slaughter of countless millions of innocent people and to the destruction of the achievements of centuries of human labour – as well as wreaking terrible ecological damage on the planet.

The crisis is sharpening all the major contradictions in the world:

• The contradiction between labour and capital.

• The contradiction between a tiny group of imperialist countries and the oppressed nations and peoples.

• The contradiction between the imperialist powers themselves.

• The contradiction between imperialism and the remaining socialist countries.

In so doing, capitalism is driving the working class to revolution. The working class and the oppressed peoples are faced with a clear choice:

Either place yourself at the mercy of capital, eke out a wretched existence and sink lower and lower, or adopt a new weapon – this is the alternative imperialism puts before the vast masses of the proletariat. Imperialism bring the working class to revolution.”(JV Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, 1924)

The task facing the world’s communist parties is to direct the fight of the proletariat and oppressed peoples against their inhuman conditions of existence; to overthrow imperialism and to build socialism.

In order for this to be achieved, the communists must do six essential things:

1. We mustequip the working class with a thorough grasp of the science of revolution – Marxism Leninism – for, “without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. (VI Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 1901)

We cannot hope to win this great battle if we do not have a proper understanding of our enemy, of strategy and tactics in organisation and class struggle, and of socialist construction.

2. In order to bring down capitalism, the proletariat needs a party of its own that is strong and disciplined, for, as Lenin said, “in its struggle for power the proletariat has no other weapon than organisation”. (VI Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, 1904)

United in action behind the leadership of such a party, there is no fortress the working class cannot storm!

3. We must wage an uncompromising struggle against opportunism. In the imperialist countries, that means exposing social democracy (the Labour party in Britain) and breaking its hold over the working-class movement.

These opportunists seek to divert the struggle for socialism down harmless paths and to reconcile the masses with the capitalist system.

That is why Lenin said that “the fight against imperialism is a sham and a fraud unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism”. (VI Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916)

4. It is vital that we explain the reasons for the fall of the mighty Soviet Union. We must show that it was not socialism that failed, but revisionism.

The Khrushchevites undermined Soviet socialism by revising and falsifying Marxism Leninism in every essential field, from political economy to philosophy and class struggle.

We must have a clear understanding that the introduction of market socialism, which restored profit as the regulator of production and undermined central planning, served to destroy the economic foundations of socialism and paved the way for the restoration of capitalism.

5. We must fight against defeatism and scepticism in our movement. The capitalists of all countries use their control of the corporate mass media to spread lies that destroy the working class’s faith in its own abilities. We are taught to feel that it is impossible for us either to destroy the old society or to build a new one that guarantees everlasting prosperity and peace for the masses.

These lies need to be countered with a vigorous promotion of the real history of socialism so far. This propagation of the truth will show workers just what monumental gains have been delivered to them by the victories of the first waves of anti-capitalist revolution, and will give them an understanding of just how much they have to gain by joining the fight for socialism.

6. The parties of the proletariat in the imperialist countries must give their full support to the national-liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples against imperialism. We are facing the same enemy and we will only win if we fight together.

That is why Lenin said that “The revolutionary movement in the advanced countries would actually be a sheer fraud if, in their struggle against capital, the workers of Europe and America were not closely and completely united with hundreds upon hundreds of millions of ‘colonial’ slaves who are oppressed by that capital.” (‘The second congress of the Communist International’ by VI Lenin, 1920)

Comrade Ella: the democratic revolution in Latin America

The thrust of Comrade Ella’s contribution was that, notwithstanding the widespread rhetoric about 21st-century socialism, the stage of the revolution in Latin America is actually democratic (anti-feudal and anti-imperialist), not socialist.

To substantiate this, she concentrated on developments in Venezuela and subjected to sharp criticism the un-Marxist theories propagated in the name of Marxism by Heinz Steffan Dieterich, a Mexican of German origin, who was very close to Chávez from 2006-11 and who is the originator of the catchphrase ‘socialism for the 21st century’.

According to Steffan, 20th-century revolutions are failed revolutions not to be emulated, for they were characterised by a ‘democratic deficit’. Clearly, he is opposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat, one of the chief functions of which is to ‘deny democracy’ to the former exploiting classes so as to stop them from returning to power.

Notwithstanding these theoretical limitations, the Venezuelan leadership has made great strides in mobilising the masses to loosen the grip of big landlord/colonialist relations of production and of imperialist domination. Comrade Rule explained that this has been possible because:

• Imperialism has been embroiled in deadly wars elsewhere, which are sapping its energy and diverting its attention away from Venezuela and other Latin-American countries to some extent. (Hugo Chávez himself acknowledged this, saying that the Venezuelan people owed a great debt to the Iraqi resistance.)

• The seizure of Venezuela’s oil wealth by the government of Chávez enabled it to finance popular policies for the benefit of the Venezuelan people.

• Most unusually for a progressive government, it has been able to retain the loyalty of the Venezuelan military.

• The involvement of China through trade and investment has helped Latin America to break the technological monopoly of imperialism.

Comrade Ella concluded by saying that once the democratic stage of the revolution is over, there is no reason why the masses should not immediately pass to the next, socialist stage of the revolution.

Visit to Hunan

On 1 November, following the conclusion of the symposium in Beijing, eleven of the foreign delegates were flown to the province of Hunan, where Chairman Mao was born and raised.

As well as addressing an impressive academic seminar on world socialist construction, our comrades were taken on a visit to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Chairman Mao, where the famous giant statue of this great revolutionary stands, along with one of his first wife, Comrade Yang Kaihui, who was murdered by Kuomintang reactionaries at the young age of just 29. They also visited the house where Chairman Mao was born and grew up, and the house of his wife’s family.

After a lunch hosted by the Shaoshan administration, they were treated to a symposium on issues of Chinese university students and education at the Hunan University of Technology, which provided them with an opportunity to interact with teacher, student and staff representatives. The day trip was concluded by a visit to the Ecological Civilisation and Livelihood Project construction along the Xiangjiang River scenic belt.

The delegates’ final day in Hunan began with a tour of the New Socialist Rural Area in Kaihui Village, Changsha County, and ended with a visit to Yuelu Academy and Orange Beach.

The visit to Hunan was extremely inspiring, for this province is the birthplace and cradle of the Great Chinese Revolution. The first branch of the CPC was established in Hunan and some of the top leaders of the party hailed from the province. It was a particularly auspicious moment to visit Hunan, as this 26 December marks the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth, as a result of which prominent places are festooned with banners exhorting people to celebrate the occasion with enthusiasm and affection for the great leader of the Chinese people.

Return to Beijing

After returning from Hunan, our party comrades were invited to speak to some students at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing (CUFE). It was a most humbling experience. They entered the auditorium to be greeted by about 200 enthusiastic students and a banner at the back of the hall reading: “Warmly greet Harpal Brar and Ella Rule to CUFE”.

Their brief speeches were followed by a question and answer session. It was a most enjoyable and memorable opportunity for our comrades to meet young Chinese students with a serious interest in Marxism and world politics, and a fitting end to a productive and illuminating visit.

Long live the solidarity and fraternal friendship between the Chinese and British proletariat!


The CPGB-ML and Comrades Ella and Harpal would like to thank the World Socialism Research Centre of CASS, the Centre for Contemporary World Studies of the International Department of the CCCPC, the Zhuzhou Municipal Academy of Social Sciences, the CPC Changsha County Committee and the staff and students at CUFE for their kind invitations to our comrades and the generous and warm hospitality which they showed them.

We offer our special thanks to Professors Wang Liqiang and Li Shenming of CASS, He Anjie (Party Secretary of the CPC Zhuzhou Municipal Committee), and Liu Jianwu, Secretary of the CPC General Branch and Dean of the Hunan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, for making our visit to Beijing and to Hunan province possible and very enjoyable.

Last, but not least, we would like warmly to thank Comrade Chan Shao of CASS and Wang Mio and her colleagues and students from CUFE for their untiring help in facilitating our comrades’ participation at the seminar at CASS and their visit to CUFE.