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Reviewed by:
  • China, Marxism, and Democracy: Selections from October Review
  • Stephen Philion (bio)
Thomas Barret, editor. China, Marxism, and Democracy: Selections from October Review. Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1996. vi, 257 pp. Hardcover, ISBN 0-391-09323-7.

From 1978, when the move toward market-oriented policies in China was officially undertaken, until June 4, 1989, there was considerable excitement generated in intellectual and activist circles about the possibility of linking China's economic reforms with the goal of democratization. Since that day there has been considerably less optimism about such a prospect. The general trend in the literature on the problem of constructing democracy in China is to blame the lack of democracy on the legacy of Marxism in China and to see Marxism as one of the main barriers, if not the main barrier, to such a project. China, Marxism, and Democracy: Selections from October Review (hereafter CMD) departs from the mainstream determinist linkage of Marxism and anti-democratic forms of political-economic governance. Instead, it asks a much more theoretically coherent research question, namely how has the departure of the Chinese Revolution from the Marxist goal of a society in which working people could directly control the institutions (e.g., factories, banks, schools, and housing) that affect their fates derailed the project of democratic construction in China?

The question is not of small import, on at least two grounds, which this book demonstrates quite well. First, to ignore it requires that we dismiss the considerable debate on the role of democratic forms of political-economic organization within Marxism. Second, the turn to markets in China has created a generation of "democracy activists" abroad who seem utterly ill equipped to theorize many of the undemocratic legacies of China's market-oriented policies, not to mention the conflict between democratization and progressive integration into global capitalist markets. What is widely forgotten by liberal Chinese activists (abroad or in China) is that capitalist development in nearby Asian NICs was carried out under glaringly authoritarian political conditions and that liberal political reforms carried out from the late 1980s onward have not led to a more democratic control or distribution of the surpluses generated by Asian NIC "miracles." Indeed, liberal political-economic institutions in Asia, especially since the onset of the Asian financial crisis, have been largely captured by local corporations and are ever susceptible to the will of foreign multinational investors and lending institutions (e.g., [End Page 373] the IMF and the World Bank). Therefore, this book pushes us to consider another important question, namely what kind of democracy should be constructed in China, if neither the present model of "market-socialism" nor the liberal alternative creates democratic institutions in much more than the formal sense.

CMD is a compilation of articles from the Hong Kong-based Trotskyist journal October Review that were written during the 1980s and very early 1990s. The ones selected for this volume were originally written in response to Dengist market-oriented political-economic policies and the repression of the May-June 1989 democracy movement. CMD begins with a brief introduction by the book's editor, Thomas Barret, in which the urgency of these issues and an understanding of the background of the Trotskyist critique of the Chinese Revolution's Stalinist orientation and the Dengist embrace of markets is seen as the key to solving the resultant bottlenecks. Barret notes that while great hopes for prosperity and democracy were aroused with the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, these hopes have hardly been realized in most of the former Eastern Bloc countries. Instead, conditions of economic austerity and unemployment have proven to be far more fertile ground for the breeding of xenophobic far-right ideologies. Meanwhile, in China "Deng Xiaoping has been guiding China toward a restored capitalism while maintaining the CCP's harsh dictatorship."

For the contributors, June 4, 1989, serves as a watershed moment in which the direction of China's market socialism was laid bare, a socialism that would establish the foundations for the emergence of a new class of much wealthier appropriators and roll back any attempts by workers and students to demand democratic reforms that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 373-377
Launched on MUSE
1999-09-01
Open Access
No
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