On 5 May 2018, the second centenary of Karl Marx’s birth, Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules The World. The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World (2009), told BBC World Service TV that Marx was still valid today.
As proof, he cited the 2007-8 financial collapse and the fact that China was going to overtake the US to become the biggest economy in the world.
This displays an astonishing level of willful ignorance about China, but such willful ignorance is not surprising, for Jacques is a Marxist and for many years was editor of the British magazine Marxism Today.
Needless to say, Jacques said nothing of the 60 million people killed in Mao’s famine in the late 1950s and early 1960s or the additional 1.5 million dead victims of the Cultural Revolution.
Indeed, he claimed it was ridiculous to blame Marx, or any individual, for the way their ideas were implemented – but this did not stop him from attributing China’s economic success to communism.
A classic example of the cognitive dissonance of the highly qualified – Jacques has a PhD in Economics from Cambridge!
In fact, China’s political system remains under the tight rule of the Chinese Communist Party, and the country’s State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are notoriously inefficient and saddled with huge debt.
This was also par for the course in other (former) communist countries too, such as the Volkseigene Betriebe (VEB) in the German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany. Seen as the model communist economy up to 1989 by those wearing blinkers, when it collapsed in 1989 its “successful enterprises” were revealed as empty shells.
China’s high economic growth since 1978, on the other hand, has far more to do with the innate entrepreneurship of the Chinese, the large Chinese diaspora and the huge trade surplus Western capitalist countries, especially the U.S., have allowed China to accumulate, as well as capitalist policies put in place by the Communists. There is precious little communism in this mix.
The only reason China will overtake the US will be by dint of its huge population, not its economic efficiency. Hong Kong is far richer than China in per capita terms, but with its tiny population, it has no chance of becoming the biggest economy in the world.
On Jacques’s logic of economic size, China must also have been communist when it was the biggest economy in the world in 1000 AD. Once again, however, China was also the most populous country in the world at that time.
Parts of China, notably the interior, remain desperately poor, and the country faces huge demographic, economic, environmental and developmental challenges.
It’s glittering and spanking new infrastructure will also begin to collapse in 50-75 years’ time – just like that in the U.S. which was built under F. D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Will China still have the money to renovate, replace and update it then, when its population will have aged?
It will take tremendous skill and a large amount of luck on the part of the Chinese Communist Party to manage these challenges.
Still, the CPC does look on course to break the record of 74 years in power currently held by the now defunct Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
China’s Communists will mark 75 years at the helm in 2024, but they are intent on seeing in the centenary of the revolution in 2049 – and remaining in power beyond.