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Is China on the path of imperialism?


Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  China, United States, Soviet Union, World, Imperialism  

Anti-imperialists and revolutionaries who only think in the framework of decades-long opposition to US hegemony in the world system will look in vain, and to their own discredit, for friends or allies among the contending imperialists. The only path forward is to build revolutionary proletarian class-conscious parties and mass-based political forces with eyes wide open, independent of ties and influence by any and all imperialists. Revolutionary Frontlines has recently received a new study from, which examines the shape of the imperialist system today, with special emphasis on the still-debated role of China and Chinese imperialism. The introduction to this path-breaking study and analysis is posted here below.

N B Turner  

It has long been known and understood that the entire world has been under the control of capitalist-imperialism. For a time, a section of this world broke from it, beginning with the victory of socialism in Russia and continuing through the Chinese Revolution, constituting a socialist world. Yet, in time, the socialist countries, through internal class struggles in politics and economics, were seized by capitalist conciliators and advocates, and then by capitalists themselves, who were largely within the ruling communist parties themselves.

First in Russia, and later in China, when these counter-revolutions and coups took place, there ensued a period of entry and integration into the world imperialist system.


The Soviet Union, at first under the existing signboard of socialism, continued much of its established national and economic power relations into a new social-imperialist bloc (socialist in name, imperialist in reality). The Russian capitalist-imperialist attempt to maintain this bloc, or important sections of what had been part of this bloc, and its historic allies, has continued in the years since the “socialist” signboard was discarded. In China, the defeat of the proletariat and the capitalist capture of state power, after the death of the great revolutionary Mao Zedong, have also led to a period of integration into the world imperialist system. China still operates under a “socialist” signboard, but has conducted itself unambiguously as a capitalist power.

Before the last decade, especially since the demise of the “socialist bloc,” the US was commonly seen as the sole Superpower, to which all other powers had to defer. The system which the US had designed, at the end of WW2, was global in scope, and to some more “democratic” in appearance than the old colonial empires. But it was built around the elitist privilege of power and authority, meaning the US as Superpower was at the centerpiece of the controls.

But in the last decade the imperialist world system is not what it used to be. Throughout the world, corrupt and comprador regimes have faced significant and often unprecedented mass popular opposition movements which have revealed the deep instability of the old neo-colonial arrangements. Even in the EU, the product of imperialist designs to supplant the historic internecine battles, there has emerged ever deepening crisis and conflicts, and movements to assert nationalist interests against one another (which can only lead to opposing the EU arrangements overall). Against the “threat” of Islamic fundamentalism, the imperialist system as directed by the US has launched wars such as in Iraq and Afghanistan at huge cost—trillions of dollars, and immeasurable losses in political credibility and imperialist authority, as neither war has won any of the US’ objectives. These clear failures at the hand of the largest and most powerful military force in the world, do not bode well for maintaining the US’ hegemonic domination of the world’s imperialist system. And the economic and financial crisis of the last half-decade or more, has stirred not only deep discontent, resentment, and popular political opposition within the ranks of the US’ “reliable” allies, but it has brought to the fore the imperialist anti-US challenges from other major powers—China and Russia. Forces worldwide are studying these changes, and considering how they change the set of options at hand.

The all-too-prevalent view that US imperialism is so powerful, so dominant, and so capable of manipulating all manner of forces and bend them to its will has been, and continues to be, a dangerous twisting of reality. The sole Superpower, in this view, has been attributed with omnipotent features that defy effective challenge, that reflect a supposedly skillful control of contradictions and crises that afflicted earlier empires, and that has a boundless ability to disguise its malevolent work. If it were true, it would be a remarkable development in human history—indeed, it would be, as once touted (in the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and bloc) by Francis Fukuyama, the End of History (i.e., the end of historical conflict and systemic challenges). It would be an expression of the boastful and fanciful capitalist’s post-Mao motto, TINA—There Is No Alternative (to capitalism).

There are others who assert that the US is not so omnipotent, and that it is in decline and may be failing—but that the US, and its close allies, constitute the only imperialism that matters, and that, if all–its detractors, victims, opponents, and its imperialist rivals–band together, “liberation” will truly be achieved with the demise of US imperialism. This view also holds that whenever big powers like China or Russia rise in opposition to the US, they deserve the support and applause from progressive and revolutionary forces.

Holding this view is a variety of forces who cling to the notion that the Cold War division of the world is still extant and that popular protests in recent years from Libya to Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela (as well as Brazil and Turkey, Iran, even inside western China in Urumqi) are all examples of US meddling and desperate interference. This view holds that without such US manipulation and interference and disruption, the people would, by and large, be happy or passive. This is by any measure an amazing claim, denying the existence of class contradictions and struggles within each of these countries, and making it appear that the conspiratorial powers of the US to manipulate events are unparalleled in reach and effectiveness. In practical political terms, this view distorts the basic reality that many regimes, bourgeois states that usually evoke one (ethnic or religious or nationalist) section of the people over others, aim to repress the sharpening class struggle and broad discontent and rebellion, and a key aspect of that repression is to depict that popular struggle—in diplomacy, media, culture, and in state to state relations—as something else: a defense of national sovereignty against external interference and intervention.

If such a claims were valid, there would be evidentiary “smoking guns” produced linking imperial manipulators and local instruments, on the one hand, and at the same time show that the issues or grievances being protested are false or fabricated/invented, with the foreign hand active in their creation or distribution. To simply say that foreign forces have tried to influence events is always and obviously true—but that they try does not prove they are effective and control events.

The US’ “superpowers” of domination and control are already fading, and the entire world imperialist system is driven to deeper crises and unsolvable contradictions. That capitalism and imperialism are so full of contradiction should not confound proletarian revolutionaries and Marxist-Leninist-Maoists. But many have lagged behind on this understanding in the current world. For some, this is because of the lingering influence and assumptions of past periods, which brought forward the Cold War paradigm and the Third World paradigm and the US Sole Superpower paradigm. These have continued, and become more deeply embedded in progressive and anti-imperialist political culture through the influence of revisionism, of social-democracy, of reformism, of nationalism, of imperialist promotion of pacifism, and pragmatism–amid a broad climate of despair.

The growing conflicts and disputes among imperialist powers, old and new, are but the inevitable seeds of conflict between exploitative and oppressive powers which must expand at each others’ expense. All the imperialist powers wish for greater control of the entire world system, but each works with as much as they are able to actually seize. Among revolutionaries, and even among Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionaries, a common illusion continues to be, that the US is the sole enemy, the only Superpower, which possesses such superpowers that only by uniting the people with all who oppose US domination, can the empire be brought down. This has led to political lines which cast class struggles and popular mass rebellions as, actually, an endless series of conflicts between those who assert national sovereignty and national independence against the interference and intervention of external forces commanded (organized, financed, supplied, directed, influenced) by the US. This denial of the class struggle, has led to an embrace of local reactionaries and embrace of the local reactionaries’ (claimed or real) powerful backers. It has often led to a one-sided opposition to the US and denial that contending imperialist powers are squaring off in a series of “proxy wars” between contending imperialists. And such denials have been made, even by those claiming to be “anti-imperialists.”

This line can only develop as a new version of the historically discredited line of “defense of the fatherland” which German socialists adopted before WW1, and which was a large reason for the collapse of the 2nd international. But, in this period, this line takes the form of defending any power “on the outs” or opposed to US imperialism. The historic rejection of this line was sharply and famously opposed by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party which argued for “revolutionary defeatism” toward all imperialist and reactionary powers as the only stance for revolutionaries. They opposed collaborationist nationalism with revolutionary internationalism. And with this line, the October Revolution was won.

In the world today, oftentimes the critics of embattled oppressive local reactionaries are criticized by “anti-imperialists” or “leftists” who say such criticism gives aid and support to US imperialists!

The crisis of the imperialist system is objectively good cause for the advance of revolutionary forces. But the subjective understanding (ideological and political) has not kept pace with the developments in the world, and this can only lead to the irrelevance of internationalist revolutionary proletarian forces, and even prevent their re-emergence as the dynamic force which can lead the process of current widespread rebellion forward to socialist/proletarian revolution throughout the world, and onward to a new future for humanity without national, religious, ethnic, gender, and class divisions—the prospect of communism.

So clarifying the nature of the world imperialist system, its contradictions and cracks and developing contending and opposing powers, is essential for revolutionaries to move forward and lead the organization and ability of genuine revolutionary political forces to seize historic opportunities in the period ahead.

There have been many steps forward in the development of MLM as a world view, an analysis, and methodology. But the development at each turn has depended upon the battle against revisionist distortions and abandonment of basic and time-tested principles and methods. Lenin worked to rescue Marx from the revisionist distortions of Bernstein and Kautsky on the nature of state power (especially the need for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state, in opposition to the line of reformist unity with progressive nationalist unity with the bourgeoisie). Similarly, Mao worked diligently to rescue Lenin from the revisionist distortions of Tito and Khrushchev and Liu Shaoqi (regarding the need to understand and oppose imperialism, uphold proletarian revolution and socialist transformation, and insisting on the independence and keeping initiative in the hands of revolutionary proletarian forces).
The distortions of this period have unique characteristics, but they also repeat many of the historic distortions of Karl Kautsky. There is a neo-Kautskyist view of “ultra-imperialism” that many apply to the power of US imperialism since WW2 to the present. The argument is made that

• the allies of the US are firm, unshakeable and presumably permanent (as far as the eye can see)

• the size and capacity of the US military is, for any would-be challenger, unbreachably overwhelming

• that China is far too much of a “johnny come lately” to be taken seriously as imperialist challenger to the US

• that China has gone from being a comprador and cheap labor resource for the US, to a power deeply and critically impaired by being locked into the US financial system, unable to break out

• that there are no potential allies of China (beyond Russia) which could seriously pose the threat of an opposing bloc to the US led-bloc, now or in the future

• that China’s military is incapable of posing a military challenge to the US, now or in the future

• and even, some argue, there has been a kind of historical maturation to US imperialism (which was previously subject to the laws of overproduction of capital leading to WW1and WW2) which, since WW2 had sufficient dominance by the US, and presumably, sufficient imperialist international architecture, to prevent devastating overproduction crises (and will be able to resolve or control less-than-devastating crises)

• and, some argue, that deep crisis will never lead to inter-imperialist warfare, possibly including nuclear weapons, ever again

• and that such powers and controls by US imperialism and its allies, means that any and all talk of revolution, much less of armed mass revolution, is a fantasy only held by “ultra-leftist” (i.e., not genuine or serious) revolutionaries.

• A variation of this argument holds that pacifist reformism is the only method of genuine change within the imperialist countries.

So, as present-day neo-Kautskyites throw out Lenin and adopt Kautsky, they discard the basics of dialectical materialism and of internationalism and revolution—all in the name of “anti-US imperialism.”
It is the responsibility of all revolutionaries to defeat such revisionism, and to clarify the nature of imperialism today, and why revolutionary internationalism must take aim at, and organize forces with clear understanding that revolution requires opposition to, the entire capitalist-imperialist system.

It is with this responsibility in mind, that we offer the following essay on the growth and development of China as a major contending imperialist power in this period. We welcome your comments, criticisms, and suggestions, and we especially encourage further work on this issue. All revolutionary advance in the period ahead requires combating the blinding curse of revisionism. As Mao said, “Cast away illusions, Prepare for struggle!!”

Source: Revolutionary Frontlines

[The entire document can be viewed or downloaded at: or]

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