Vidushi R Singh, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies
The reform and opening up of China in 1978 paved the way for the transformation of China from a planned to a socialist market economy. The decision to open up the economy was criticized by many leftist academics and economists. The reforms led to major disagreements between the government and the bourgeois elites.
Today, under Xi Jinping’s rule, the CPC is debating the direction of growth which China should continue pursuing. In light of the US-China trade war, the calls for China to become a true market economy have reached a crescendo. Despite that, the rest of the world is shifting away from free market operations towards protectionism, with the Nordic model of state-market balancing gaining immense appreciation. At a time like this, Lin Chun’s book, China and Global Capitalism: Reflections on Marxism, History and Contemporary Politics, provides a critical perspective on how one can interpret the changing global scenario while considering the domestic realities of China.
The main thesis of the book questions the sustainability and moral desirability of capitalism in China and the world with regard to the evolving world order. Lin Chun attempts to decipher the past and present of the global capitalist order and its interactions with China, with a continuous call for China to revert to the pre-reform era. She ends the book by predicting the eventual and inevitable transformation of the global order into a ‘moral socialist economy’ (p. 152) with China as the leader.
Chun divides the book into three sections – a history of China and the global capitalist ideology, the present interplay between the two, and her predictions regarding the future of the world socioeconomic order.
In the first section, she emphasizes the dynamic nature of China, claiming that this has resulted in a secular, independent and socialist state with a commitment to the centrality of the people (p. 8). Chun also goes on to vehemently refute the Marxist claim of Asian societies being passive and as awaiting capitalist integration, claiming that this idea creates a tendency to ignore all possibilities of progress via other non-capitalist socio-economic models.
In the next section, Lin Chun discusses China’s shift from being a socialist bastion to a capitalist economy, and how it has impacted the nation and its people. She claims that the changing face of Chinese socialism has undermined the improvements that the socialist revolution had brought about, with the new reforms being the key drivers of this ‘peaceful evolution’ towards capitalist integration (p. 56). The fading boons of socialism, in her perspective, have created financial and structural deficiencies in the Chinese state, and have led to China becoming a vital part of the global ‘race to the bottom’ (p. 61). Her commentaries on the revolution carry a strong rosy note that seems to ignore the bleaker sides of the revolution and only focus on the positives. She attributes the current welfare and labour issues in China to the monopolization of decision making power in the country. This ‘proletarianization’ of the population, she declares, is against the Chinese vision and creates a need for ‘regime legitimization’ by the government by returning to its social commitments as stated in the Chinese constitution (p. 66-69). Throughout her narrative, there is a call for China to return to the pre-reform era. However, the author’s call to undo reforms in China trivializes several important arguments she makes against capitalism by taking away focus from them and pinning it to an impossible aspiration. It is not only impractical for China to undo years’ worth of reforms but also undesirable – it is because of the reforms that China has been able to capture the global power it enjoys today, and for a country that is highly dependent on trade, closing borders would be unreasonable.
On the topic of the existence and the need for a ‘Chinese model’ (p. 81), Lin Chun claims that any model that the government chooses to adopt will serve Chinese interests if it fulfills four prerequisites: a robust socialist state, a resourceful public sector, a focus on collective growth and development, and voluntary social organization, participation and power. She advocates the adoption of a sustainable approach to progress where urbanization, modernization and privatization are not standardized measures of development and instead there is a focus on achieving Minsheng. She ends this section by asserting that the Chinese goal is ‘capitalization without proletarianization’ (p. 156) and the only way to achieve that is by creating a balance between the industrial and agricultural resources in the country, and by focusing on the ‘local’ needs of the people.
The last section of the book delves into the future she envisions for China and the world order. She declares that growing global sensitivity to human rights and ecological sustainability will inevitably result in an anti-capitalist world order. She highlights the insufficiency of the current Eurocentric worldview as a measure of development and holds the ‘moral socialist economy’ as a likely end to the global fight over socioeconomic models of growth. She ends with a call for China to reclaim its place as the leader of the global economic order.
Overall, the book comes across as intensely deterministic and ignores several shortfalls of socialism and the Chinese state. It also overemphasizes the perceived negatives of capitalism. Lin Chun has written a book with a coloured understanding of the socioeconomic models it talks about, and there is a unique sense of Chinese exceptionalism throughout the book. The flow of the arguments highlight Chun’s own New Left ideology and robs the readers of a chance to formulate their own opinions. The chapters appear to be individual essays, with little logical linkages.
However, one attractive characteristic of the book is its use of Marxism and the dependency theory to formulate arguments for socialism. The book follows a clear theme about the origin, cost and durability of the Chinese model of development. The author attempts to relate China’s growth with the long term global trends and pushes for the adoption of a perspective of social justice and political righteousness instead of generic economic indicators as measures of progress. So, while the book has a biased narrative, it does develop a new understanding about measuring progress and creating new modes of development by focusing on value creation over accumulation.
However, being written in 2013, Lin Chun’s predictions of an anti-capitalist world order appear to be far from realization today. While the world does seem to be shying away from the snowballing externalities of capitalism, it is no closer to demanding a socialist revolution than it was when the book first came out. In this respect, the author seems to have missed the mark, being overly embroiled in her ideological aspirations, to objectively analyze the possibility of a change in the world order. Despite its shortcomings, the book comes out as a commendable assessment of the logic and crises of capitalist integration and raises crucial questions about how the global economy will address them in the coming years.
 ‘The Nordic model encompasses a mutually supportive interaction of risk sharing and globalization. It is marked by a large welfare state, a particular set of labour market institutions and a high rate of investment in human capital’ in Andersen, T., Vartiainen, J., Tson Söderström, H., Holmström, B., Honkapohja, S., & Korkman, S. (2007). The Nordic Model: Embracing Globalisation and Sharing Risks. Yliopistopaino, Helsinki: Taloustieto Oy.
 The book was published on December 2013 by Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 978-1-137-30125-3
 For the author, ‘race to the bottom’ signifies the socio-economic phenomenon of countries exploiting labour and capital to reduce costs as much as possible, in an attempt to retain competitiveness in an increasingly unified global market.
 A Dictionary of Sociology, 1998. “In Marxism, proletarianization is the social process through which individuals from the middle class become absorbed into the working class as wage labourers, and producers are separated from the means of production through coercive and persuasive means”.
 Ancient Chinese principle of popular wellbeing, and development as freedom (p. 99-104).
 This claim is based on Chun’s participation as a writer for New Left Review, and her book ‘The British New Left’.