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How Chinese Socialism Is Defeating Covid-19, by Carlos Martinez

May 6, 2020

China Sets the Pace in Global Covid-19 Battle, Part 3

Reposted with thanks from Invent the Future, where it forms the conclusion of “Karl Marx in Wuhan: How Chinese Socialism Is Defeating COVID-19“ by Carlos Martinez (March 25, 2020). See first part of Martinez’s article. For my reservations regarding Martinez’s discussion of “Chinese socialism,” see China Sets the Pace in Covid-19 Battle, by John Riddell. 

“Our greatest strength lies in our socialist system, which enables us to pool resources in a major mission. This is the key to our success.” (Xi Jinping)

Why has the response to COVID-19 been so much more thorough and successful in China than in the capitalist West? How is it possible that China – a developing country with a per capita GDP of just over $10,000 (less than 20 percent of the US figure) – is able to limit the spread of the disease to less than 0.01 percent of its population, while rich countries like Britain are talking about ‘herd immunity’?

Medical team from China arrives in Burkina Faso

As Indian communist Siteram Yechury memorably put it, “in the final analysis, it boils down to the question of who controls the state or whose class rule it is. Under bourgeois class rule, it is profit indicators that are the driving force. Under working class rule, it is society’s responsibilities that are the priorities.”

The legendary South African freedom fighter Chris Hani made a similar point: “Socialism is not about big concepts and heavy theory. Socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless. It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about health care, it is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas. It is about a decent education for all our people.”

China and Covid-19: A Three-Part Series

  1. China Sets the Pace in Global Covid-19 Battle,” by John Riddell
  2. Karl Marx in Wuhan,” by Carlos Martinez
  3. How Chinese Socialism Is Defeating Covid-19,” by Carlos Martinez

In short, China is responding in such a responsible and effective manner to the COVID-19 pandemic because it’s a socialist country and its government is primarily accountable not to capital but to the people. The non-negotiable top priority of the government is “meeting people’s needs, ranging from those in education, employment, social security, medical services, housing, environment, to intellectual and cultural life.”

Once it became clear that fighting COVID-19 meant choosing between saving millions of lives or protecting economic growth, China came down unambiguously on the side of saving lives.

Further, China’s relatively centralised system of economic control means that it can mobilise vast resources very quickly. As an analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations grudgingly observes, the Chinese state “can overcome bureaucratic nature and financial constraints and is able to mobilise all of the resources.” Similarly, CNN couldn’t but admit that China’s ability “to pull something like this off is thanks to the ability of a centralised, powerful leadership to react in a crisis.”

China certainly doesn’t have any shortage of private capital these days, but its economic strategy is nonetheless directed by the state. The government maintains tight control over the most important parts of the economy – the ‘commanding heights’: heavy industry, energy, finance, transport, communications, and foreign trade. Finance – which has a key influence over the entire economy – is dominated by the ‘big four’ state-owned banks, accountable to the Chinese government and people.

Private production is encouraged to the extent (and only to the extent) that it contributes to modernisation, technological innovation, employment and improvement in living standards.

In capitalist countries, governments are essentially under the control of capital; in socialist countries, capital is essentially under the control of the government. As Eric Li put it, “There’s no way a group of billionaires could control China’s politburo as billionaires control American policy making.” Communist Party rule means that the government can take the decision to privilege the interests of human life over those of capital, and the owners of capital have no option but to go along with that, even where it means having their property seized.

Indeed, many big Chinese companies have put their services at the disposal of the fight against the virus. An article on the World Economic Forum blog notes that “corporations including Alibaba, Baidu, Bank of China, ByteDance, China Construction Bank, China COSCO Shipping Corporation, China Merchants Group, Envision Energy, Fosun Group, Guangzhou Pharmaceutical,, Mengniu, Ping An, SinoChem, Sinopec, Tai Kang Insurance, Tencent, Xiaomi, Yili and others have donated large volumes of healthcare, food and other supplies to the affected areas.

Manufacturers including BYD, Foxconn, Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. and SAIC-GM-Wuling are setting up makeshift assembly lines to produce additional masks and disinfectants.” Other companies have provided autonomous robots for delivery of supplies to patients under quarantine.

China’s response to the pandemic has seen the extensive use of cutting edge technology, incorporating the latest developments in artificial intelligence, robotics and medical imaging. It’s also well ahead of the curve when it comes to things like online shopping, cashless payment and remote education. This video gives a fascinating insight into how these technologies are being leveraged to enforce containment measures in Nanjing.

Veteran science writer Philip Ball noted recently that, in several fields of science and technology, “China is starting to set the pace for others to follow. On my tour of Chinese labs in 1992, only those I saw at the flagship Peking University looked comparable to what you might find at a good university in the west. Today the resources available to China’s top scientists are enviable to many of their western counterparts.”

Given the level of scientific backwardness, generalised poverty and ignorance prevailing at the time of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it is nothing short of incredible that China has emerged as a world leader in science and technology. That it has done so is testament to the systematic efforts and strategic vision of its socialist leadership.

Another aspect of Chinese socialism that’s proving invaluable in the present crisis is the existence of an enormous, highly competent and well-organised communist party, which has activists in all neighbourhoods and workplaces. CPC branches have taken the lead in terms of ensuring that people’s basic needs are met while they’re stuck at home, coordinating deliveries of food and medicine.

Millions of CPC members across the country have volunteered for this work, the need for which was emphasised by Xi Jinping back in January: “Party committees and governments at all levels must take novel coronavirus outbreak prevention and control as the top priority of their work.”

A further key difference between China and the major western capitalist countries is that the working classes of Europe and the US have been facing neoliberal austerity for the last decade. Health services and social services have taken a battering. The COVID-19 death rate in Italy and Spain is far higher than in China, in spite of Italy and Spain being much wealthier in per capita income terms.

The testing rate, treatment rate, provision of information, distribution of food, care for the elderly and vulnerable, transfer of compensatory payments and mental health support is all far better in China than in Europe and North America.

There’s been no austerity in China; quite the opposite. Real wages have more than doubled in the last decade, and the welfare state has been ramped up massively. The rollout of universal health coverage over the last 15 years has been described by the World Bank as “unparalleled”, and represents “the largest expansion of insurance coverage in human history”. The number of hospital beds per 1,000 people (4.34) is significantly higher than the OECD average (2.9), the US (2.7) or the UK (2.5). This is clearly an important part of China’s ability to minimise the harm caused by the epidemic.

China’s Internationalism

The basic dichotomy of global politics in the current era is, on the one hand, US efforts to re-assert its global hegemony through coercion and bullying, and on the other, China’s commitment to “peace, development and win-win cooperation” and the construction of a multipolar world.

China saw its first internationalist duty in relation to COVID-19 as being containment of the outbreak in Hubei, thereby buying the rest of the world time to take pre-emptive measures. Martin Jacques, author of the best-selling When China Rules the Worldexplains: “We must remember that this was a new virus that no-one knew anything about.

China was, if you like, the guinea pig. China’s problem and everyone else’s problems were fundamentally different. China was faced with a new virus. Everyone else can learn from China. Because of China they know what the coronavirus is. They don’t have to start all over again.”

By early March, the outbreak in China was basically under control but the situation was deteriorating quickly in Iran, Italy, Spain and elsewhere.

China made it clear that it was ready to offer support at every level to other countries suffering outbreaks, as well as collaborating with companies and research institutes worldwide in the development of vaccines and treatments. It has sent medical teams and vast quantities of supplies – millions of surgical masks, hundreds of thousands of testing kits, tens of thousands of ventilators – to countries around the world, including ItalySpainIranCambodiaVenezuelaCubathe PhilippinesFranceIraqSerbia and Poland.

Chinese health experts have been coordinating closely with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in order to help prepare the continent for quick and decisive action against the pandemic. The Jack Ma Foundation, coordinating with the Ethiopian government, has agreed to send 100,000 face masks, 20,000 test kits and 1,000 medical use protective suits to every country in Africa.

While China sends aid and solidarity to all corners of the globe, the US continues to impose punishing sanctions on countries that refuse to bend to its will. China has joined the calls for sanctions against Iran and Venezuela to be lifted. Pointing to the inhumanity of imposing sanctions at such a time, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang stated: “At this critical juncture where all governments and people across the world are fighting the pandemic, the US is still stubborn in sanctioning Venezuela, showing not the least respect for humanitarianism.”

Learn from China

In the first three weeks of March, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in China increased from 80,026 to 81,054 (1.3 percent). The cases in the rest of the world during the same time period increased from 8,559 to 223,982 (2,516 percent) and continue to rise fast. China’s case graph looks like the top-left quadrant of a circle; Europe and North America’s case graph looks the bottom-right quadrant.

Clearly, now is the time to learn from China rather than engage in China-bashing. Any government currently facing an outbreak and not actively learning from China’s success is committing a very serious crime against its population. Unfortunately the combination of racism and anti-communism prevailing in the West – a toxic mix of yellow peril and red scare – makes it difficult for governments and media outlets to acknowledge China’s efforts.

Numerous articles have fretted about the violation of rights involved in locking down Chinese cities. Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth stated in early February that “quarantines of this sort typically don’t work. This is not a rights-oriented approach to public health. This is treating public health with a sledgehammer.” A few weeks later, with Wuhan having defeated its outbreak and with cities throughout Europe imposing lockdowns, these comments only serve as yet more proof of Roth’s ignorance and pro-imperialist bias.

Donald Trump has stoked up anti-China sentiment and anti-Asian racist hysteria by insistently referring to COVID-19 as “the China Virus”. Like any virus, COVID-19 is essentially a blob of nucleic acid and as such can’t be considered as having a nationality, but this is not the point. Trump’s reactionary statements are deliberately designed to push the blame for the pandemic onto China, to deflect from China’s successful containment measures and to therefore explain away the US’s failures.

John Ross writes that “instead of learning the positive lessons of China’s ability to control the virus, the Western media and the US government engaged in anti-China propaganda. The bitter truth is that the anti-China propaganda campaign has to some extent contributed to the West being negligent to the looming crisis and they are now facing a medical, human and economic disaster.”

It’s hard to imagine the people of Europe and North America will quietly accept the deaths of millions of people from COVID-19 when they can see for themselves that other countries are managing the situation so much more effectively. The ruthless and moribund nature of western capitalism is being thoroughly exposed.

Ultimately, what this global health crisis is demonstrating is that socialism is far superior to capitalism when it comes to meeting people’s basic needs and protecting the most fundamental human right: the right to life.


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  1. I have a great amount of respect for this blog and the work Riddell and others have done up to this point (ensuring that the works of the Third International have reached a wider readership, for example). However, it’s extremely difficult for me to even read an entire that begins with Xi quotations and makes the attempt to paint the Chinese state as some kind of workers’ state (seeing the names Xi and Hani mentioned in practically the same breath made me want to through my computer out the window!).

    Socialism without democracy is simply not socialism, and there is very little in China that can be described as or looked to as democratic. We can surely discuss the amazing work the state has done in the past couple of months combatting the COVID-19 outbreak (while also acknowledging its deplorable initial response), and compare this to the criminal responses to the pandemic in the West. What China has done is incredible, to say the least, and I cringe every time I read or hear about what the US leadership is saying/doing where the rest of my family lives now.

    However, does that mean we need to attribute the Chinese state’s behavior to the notion that it is a workers’ or a socialist state? Of course not. This would be an unforgivable betrayal of the majority of its citizens, those journalists who have vanished in recent years for their critical writing against the party apparatus and the bureaucracy, those in the northwest being “re-educated,” and those millions more who have demonstrated so bravely in recent months and years in the south (and across the country). It’s also just shoddy social and political analysis.

    The Chinese state behaves the way it does not because it represents the interests of the majority, but because at various moments workers (and their organizations to a lesser extent) have been able to wrench concessions from the party and the state through threats, strikes, and mass action.

    This article presents these victories as just being the result of the benevolence of a socialist state and party leadership. This doesn’t seem like a very Marxist analysis to me! Shouldn’t the socialist internationalist Left be avoiding this kind of uncritical use of the term “socialist” in this day and age? I’m no expert, but I would just like to say that I expected a higher level of critical analysis of the situation here in China from a website like this one.

    • Sorry for my late reply. Note that I raised major reservations regarding Martinez’s discussion of Chinese socialism. See I posted the Martinez article for discussion not as an expression of my views, and thank you for the discussion. But in my view the Covid-19 experience also shows up a qualitative difference between the Chinese state and what we have in Canada and the United States.

      Our govenments are not willing to even consider a campaign to eradicate the virus such as that which took place in China. They seem incapable of doing so. They cannot even solve the challenge of PPE. They may go over to an “eradication” response later on — but only after grievous and unneccessary human and social losses.

      Their response to China’s achievement is a campaign of abuse and blame and a curtain of silence regarding China’s achievements. In surveys of Covid-19 infection, China is simply omitted.

      There seems to be some basic incompatibility here, going beyond mere capitalist rivalries. I contended that the factor “x” that differentiates China is the legacy of the Chinese revolution.

      There is a precedent for this discussion in our 20th-century experience with the Soviet Union. I believe Lenin was right in 1922 to speak of “state capitalism” growing up within the framework of a workers’ state — which he specified was marked by bureaucratic distortions. And I go with Trotsky in contending that even under Stalin, the fundamental gains of the Russian revolution were not lost. The definitive counterrevolution took place in conjunction with the fall of the Soviet Union.

      I see no such counterrevolution in China. Instead, following the wild instability and brutality and destructiveness of the late Mao era, recent Chinese history seems to me to represent, in part, a revolutionary consolidation.

      It would be interesting to know more regarding your views.

  2. Marty Boyers permalink

    I have been trying to wrap my brain around understanding China for a few years. I do not have as much information as I would like. Much of the newly emerging, world-expanding, and very wealthy capitalist class seems to overlap with the bureaucracy. It was reported that its parliament includes 100 billionaires!! — probably a greater proportion than that of any imperialist power. China now has a majority urban population, a breathtakingly fast transformation in twenty or thirty years. Its investors, both state and private, are expanding its reach throughout the world. This is suddenly making itself felt in economics, politics, and military ways The countryside must be transforming itself as well. But the Chinese revolution (of the latre 1940s to the mid 1960s. I would not consider the Cultural Revolution as a revolution in any real sense) was deep, and continues to have a deep impact throughout Chinese society. Much of the Chinese success in responding to COVID-19 must reflect this.

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