Explaining the paradox of market reform in communist China: the uneven and combined development of the Chinese Revolution and the search for ‘national salvation’

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Cooper, Luke William Roger (2013)
  • Subject: HC0426 | HX519 | DS701

This thesis addresses the paradox of capitalist market reform being introduced by a politically undefeated communist state in China. It does so by developing an historical account of the Chinese polity’s relationship with the modern world. Chapter one offers a critique of existing explanations; these tend to focus narrowly on the immediate\ud circumstances surrounding the decision to reform and thereby eschew analysis of the specific dynamics of the Chinese Revolution. In so doing, they also ignore its origins within the welter of contradictions arising from the process of capitalist internationalization, giving no causal efficacy to ‘the international’ in explaining this dramatic social transformation. In response to this neglect, chapter two invokes Leon Trotsky’s ‘theory of uneven and combined development’ as an alternative approach to the study of social contradictions within and amongst societies across the longue durée. This approach is then applied to the Chinese case in three steps, which consider, successively, the impact of British colonialism on the Qing dynasty, the emergence of a Chinese nationalism, and the specificities of Maoism. Chapter three shows how British imperialism integrated Qing China into the capitalist world by revolutionising global finance and imposing ‘free trade’ through military force. This capitalist penetration of a tributary state created a unique amalgam of social relations that inhibited China’s ability to ‘catch up’ with the advancedcapitalist powers. Focusing on how these processes and pressures fostered a transformation in social consciousness, chapter four then outlines the emergence of a 'national imagination' amongst a new stratum of intellectuals outside of the traditional scholar-gentry ruling class. These layers turned to anti-imperialism, but also found their own country deficient in the face of colonialism and longed for a mythical restoration of ‘lost’ Chinese power. The Russian Revolution dramatically raised the horizons of these new, modern Chinese, but also exposed a deep tension between internationalist and nationalist responses to the crisis of colonial capitalism. Chapter five outlines the role of national patriotism in the authoritarian decay of the communist project, arguing that Maoism represented a complementary amalgam of Soviet Stalinism with Chinese nationalism. This nationalism, however, resulted in tense relations with the Soviet Union after 1949 as China’s elite rejected its tutelage. Chinese communists desired ‘national salvation’ and, once Soviet-style planning failed to achieve it, they took the ‘capitalist road’ to build a strong nation-state. Existing explanations of Chinese economic reform overlook this concatenation of local and global processes across the longue durée. The thesis shows, however, that this ‘methodological nationalism’ results in a failure to give sufficient weight to the real-world political nationalism that underpinned market reform. The theory of uneven and combined development answers this absence by placing Chinese development in the global setting. Its dialectical account of history rejects the view that sees ‘cultural analysis’ as an alternative to class based explanation, but rather treats nation, culture, ideology and class as essential moments in the uneven and combined reproduction of the world system.
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