China is ruled by the Communist Party, but currently does not follow several Communist precepts, such as the veto of private property and the fight against personal accumulation of wealth, although it maintains others, such as the control of the state over the economy.
Defining how communist China is today is a slippery task, as there are many definitions of communism.
According to Karl Marx (1818-1883), communism would be the final stage of human economic evolution, which would come after the collapse of capitalism and a period of transition – socialism – in which the workers would take control of the society to create the conditions for equality.
“The word communism was not intended to define a nationalized and isolated economy, but a world system. Only in this way could there be real communism ”, explains Osvaldo Coggiola, professor of history at USP (University of São Paulo) and researcher in Marxism.
For Marx, a communist society would have no private enterprises: the means of production would be collective property, and the economy would be guided by a single plan, led by the workers, and not by the instincts of entrepreneurs and consumers. . Thus, labor income would be divided equally, without there being rich and poor. The philosopher also predicted that choices regarding the direction of society should be made with popular participation.
Marx, however, did not set the rules for organizing a society in this way, and many theorists and governments tried to think about how to turn his ideas into real change.
After the Communist Revolution of 1949, China made progress in nationalizing the economy, but there were poor results, such as a severe hunger crisis generated by Mao Tse-tung’s “Great Leap Forward” program. .
From the 1970s, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China began to open up the economy, moving away from the pillars of communism, such as the end of private property, and investing in a hybrid model, called “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” , “Market socialism”. Or “state capitalism”. The changes have led the country to become, today, the second largest economy in the world.
Thus, Beijing has promoted the model in which private companies compete with each other, albeit under the tight rein of the government. The country has also opened up a space for foreign companies to manufacture products there, attracted by cheap labor and workers who work long hours.
“The idea of a strong central government, seen in the West as authoritarianism, was already present in Chinese dynasties. It comes long before communism, ”explains Suhayla Khalil Viana, researcher at the University Institute of Lisbon and professor at the Foundation of the School of Sociology and Politics of São Paulo.
Marx also predicted that in order to achieve communism it would first be necessary to have material abundance – that is, China would make the pie and then divide, but carve out the wealth in the future. is a challenge.
Economic growth has lifted millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class. In 2020, the stock market produced a big wave of the super-rich, and the country now has 626 billionaires, according to Forbes, only lower than the United States. In 2019, they were 388. One wonders if this elite, including a part linked to the Communist Party, would agree to renounce its privileges in the future in favor of the ideal of equality.
“The strong development of the private sector is producing new social classes. In order to co-opt them, the government invites them to participate in politics, through party affiliation. However, with this, they become an upper class with political and economic power. How to control the power of this elite? “Asks Branko Milanovic, an economist specializing in income inequalities, in an article in Foreign Affairs.
Viana, from the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, says China is a consumer society and that in “20, 30 years” she sees no way to reverse this process. “It would be very difficult, and I am not betting on that intention. People have gotten used to valuing symbols of wealth. It will be difficult to give them up all at once.”
For Coggiola, the balance between capitalism and socialism in China is still ongoing and has an uncertain future. “The result will depend not only on what happens in China, but also on the evolution of politics and the international economy,” he said. “To achieve communism, workers should also unite and become autonomous subjects.”