China’s economic progress perplexes and angers Western observers. From conservative intellectuals to liberals and even leftist thinkers, most have refused to call China a socialist state, dubbing it instead a society of “state capitalism”. The reason for this was obvious: “Socialism”, or “true socialism”, should be democratic and benefit most citizens, especially the poor. “Socialism” in this reading implies special concern for ethnic minorities, as well as those who are not heterosexual. Present-day China does not fit the standard criteria. Thus, in this narrative, it cannot be called a “socialist” state, but is “capitalist” – something negative and even repulsive to leftists.
It is true that liberal and leftist historians present Stalinist USSR as a socialist state, and this was especially the case when leftist and liberal-leaning intellectuals dominated the field of Russian/Soviet studies in the 1960s and 1970s. In following prevailing trends and trying to see the USSR as an alternative to American capitalism, these historians and political scientists discovered in Stalinist USSR all the attributes of “real socialism”: Stalin was truly elected, terror was aimed against a corrupt bureaucracy (only because the people demanded it), and the leaders were mostly concerned about “diversity and inclusion”, e.g. the promotion and care of minorities. This vision of the Soviet regime, including during the Stalin era, was almost axiomatic, and quite a few of those who faithfully followed the “party line” had great academic careers.
Present-day China is hardly seen as democratic or concerned with “inclusion and diversity”. There are also other issues, according to leftist and liberal intellectuals. Traditional Confucianism, integrated into official Marxism, implicitly reinforced patriarchy, and clearly confronted the feminist agenda. Thus, China cannot be a beacon for the left. China also does not fit into the conservative image of the ideal society. To conservatives, China is not a “free market” society – with the term here having positive connotations – and they implicitly agree with the Left that China’s totalitarian regime will lead the country to a dead end.
Yet, the expectation of China’s “hard landing”, “decline”, and even collapse has been fodder for an endless stream of articles and libraries of books over the last 70 years, especially after the Tiananmen events in 1989. Yet, the Chinese economy has not slowed down – except during periods of global economic stress such as the global financial crisis in 2008-09 and of course the ongoing pandemic, though never falling (officially) into recession.
There have been several explanations. First of all, it was assumed that China’s progress was due to market reform. But if the market was the solution, then why would the US, the largest market economy in the world, be concerned with China, where the market still plays a limited role?
A second explanation was that technological progress depends on the development of science, and the freedom of intellectual discourse implies democracy. Since China has no democracy, its technological progress should have been stunted. Yet, China’s technological and scientific progress has continued. New ideas have emerged to explain this situation: China’s technological development is due to conniving actions such as spying and the unlawful transfer of information out of the US, the stealing of foreign intellectual property, or forced transfer of technology. In this context, not just the Chinese from Communist China, but also Chinese Americans have been cast in some quarters, particularly by the intelligence and security services, as an implicitly dangerous intellectual “fifth column”, not unlike how Jewish people were regarded in the Soviet Union.
Soviet Jews: Smart but “bad”
In Soviet Russia, Jews were identified as an ethnic group. In its early days, the regime was benevolent to minorities, including Jews. As time progressed, Russian nationalism, in its peculiar “National-Bolshevik” interpretation, became a truly functional ideology of the regime. The Kremlin was, in general, benevolent towards minorities, at least when it came to political sloganeering. There was constant emphasis on “friendship of the people” – harmonious, mutually beneficial relationships among ethnic groups int the USSR.
Later, however, the notion of “treacherous” minorities emerged. On the eve of World War II, Soviet Koreans were designated as enemies of the state, and deported to Central Asia from the Far East. During the Soviet War with Germany from 1941 to 1945, the same fate befell Chechens and Russian Germans. Jews, however, were regarded as benign minorities.