#41 event report: Communism and Globalization: The Story of Europe & China

December 16th, 2014 Bridge Cafè (Wudaokou)

Prof. WANG Qisheng, Department of History, Peking University
Prof. Silvio Pons, Director, Gramsci Institute (Rome)




Prof Silvio Pons pondered over his recent book, The Global Revolution: The History of International Communism 1917-1991 before making any statements among audiences. Raising his eyebrows, he started unfolding the outline of his book that was published by Oxford University Press. Pons asks a very fundamental question, ‘what is international communism’. Starting from this, he revolves around the central theme of his book, which is a history of the world during a certain period of time from communist revolution and it’s failure perspective.

Pons, who is taken seriously in his observation and study of Cold War, has divided his work of Global Revolution in specific six major themes. Which are: history of communism & global history, international communism as a subject, monocracy vs. hegemony, the end of international communism, political decline & communism, and lastly crisis of legitimacy.

In a short interval of time, Pons structured his lecture based on this division of his book. He also touched upon how communist countries were balancing power during the Cold War and to what extent it was effective in terms of maintaining power and sustaining legitimacy. “Communism was both a political culture and power strategy,” Pons said. “International communism and its impact in the global trend and politics can be explained with the help of history of nations that were ruled by communist during the period of Cold War.”

The process of globalization started as the communism was being working in the former Soviet Union. “Slowly, it failed to keep up with the time and development,” Pons said. The economic reforms that were made during the period of Cold War in communist countries were not helping them to grow, as Pons put it.

Moving towards the global history, as in his book, Pons said that the communism was failed global project and it hardly delivered anything in the long run. “Communism was an international phenomenon and its impact was global,” Pons said. “It was also an international ideal. Its geopolitical movement and strategies were stunning. The way former Soviet Union countries were operating was quite influential at that time.”

Arguing that his book has established a relationship between the history of communism and main process of globalization, he said that his work also gives a narrative of history of Cold War and its multifaceted development. Pons said that the international communism was a basic concept at the beginning of it. He puts it, as it was a process in the world as protagonists of that period behaved. “Around the end of the Cold War, or with the fall of Soviet Union, international communism had already lost its appeal in the global scale,” Pons said.

Exploring the nooks and corners of the history of communism, Pons did his best to give a feel of his whole book to audience. “I think the world was different during the period while international communism was seemingly successful,” he said. “Slowly, international communism became a myth and people started to question it.”

Showing how international communism was being portrayed in the world, he argued that historians have to grasp the centrality of its transnational relations between the revolutionary state and the movement for most of the last century. “But they should not supress the multidimensional nature of the history of communism,” he said. “My book proposes in particular to investigate the methods, limitations and failures of the Soviet Union and international communism in the exercise of hegemony and search of legitimacy,” he said indicating towards his further comment on the issue of legitimacy of power during that period of time.

Going to the time after World War II and talking on the aftermath of it, Pons said that the communist movement was compact and integrated. “However it had a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions, which led it towards failure,” he said. “The security dilemmas and revolutionary ambitions were not easy to synchronize.” The structure influence and development of international communism started to go downhill as ‘nationalizing’ the communist started to take place by states.

After mapping the history of international communism, Pons started to talk on the global impact of Chinese revolution and Sino-Soviet split. “Khrushchev’s demolition of Stalin’s reputation in 1956 heralded the decadence of the Soviet myths. The rebellions and repressions in Eastern and Central Europe from 1953 to 1956,” he said. “The expansion of communism in the post-colonial world did not counterbalance the repercussions of de-Stalinization.”

In the case of China, Pons says that Mao Zedong split from Moscow because of his own autonomy and radicalism generated by a sufficiently independent revolution. “That shattered the communist unity,” he said firmly. “This also pushed towards the shift of balance of power and created unfavourable direction for the Soviet Union.”

He argues that the monocratic system of command and its imperial behaviour created more division and tension than unity and harmony.

As all these things were happening, all of a sudden a crisis popped up in the communist world. That was a search of legitimacy and immediate realization of situation where there was no new source of legitimacy. Meanwhile, the impact of western globalization also fuelled the force, which was looking and asking for legitimacy of monocratic system in the communist world. “Deficit of legitimacy, dogmatic immobility and cultural marginality created a crisis ultimately,” he said. “The USSR and the Soviet-type economies were not capable of keeping up with the globalizing capitalist economy and communist project failed.”

[WANG Qisheng]Talking on, ‘International Communist Movement, China’s Revolution and ‘China Model’, he shared his experience how new generation of young Chinese people ask what it means by ‘international communism’. “I was reading my paper on the way to come here, a young guy sitting next to me asked a very compelling question,” he said. “The guy asked me what it means by international communism.” He goes on saying that this shows how Chinese young people are very far from communist thinking.

Giving a very striking lecture on the topic, he said that the China was very much a communist country during Chairman Mao Zedong’s time. “It has tremendously changed since then and people are far more concerned about other things than the issue of communism,” he stated. Mentioning time and again that all what he was saying was his personal views, he puts that the China has its own model of communism. “It is not true that the China was very much influenced by international communism,” he says. His views are that for China being a communist country in this history has a significant reason.

“It was for the matter of national honour and for the sake of national sovereignty in the world, which was being increasingly globalized and countries were losing their dignity,” he said. “However, there is a connection between the Soviet communism and establishment of People’s Republic of China.” He highlighted that after China was established, it also started to distance itself from the Soviet Union. “China weakened its relationship and connections with international communism and Soviet Union,” he said.

Documents are scarce to see how things were evolving at that time and how party’s foundation was going on. “Still, what scholars see is that the Chinese people were increasingly interested in international communism at that time,” he said. “Interestingly, Chinese people were also very interested in capitalism as well.” He argued that these two situations of Chinese people show that they are always flexible in learning new systems that are best for the development and well being of people. He goes on saying that the Chinese people saw Westerners being more successful than the former USSR. But there came a time when Karl Marx explained the five stages of society. “Chinese people learnt that the communist system could help to reach to the higher stage of the society as per Marx showed in his work,” he explained. “This lured Chinese people more than the Western style of development.” Chinese people learnt from Marx that communist system could help them to jump from feudalism to capitalism, he said.

China went through a difficult time during twentieth century fighting against many feudal dynasties. One after another, and the Chinese revolution was the most significant one and it established People’s Republic of China.

Then, there was Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and reformed the Chinese economy and made it possible to have double-digit economic growth. That made Chinese people to forget about the issue legitimacy of power. “Chinese people were so happy that they let the power to work as it wanted since it was working on developing the economy and give a better life to the people,” he said.

This newly coined “Chinese Dream” is also a part of the government insistence to build an economy where people can attain what they want. “Now there is an official stance that the China is adopting a system called, ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ and it will work on making China better,” he said. “But in my words, it is ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ and this is quite very close to successful system.”

To be more precise here, Wang puts it as “China is in the transitions from 1949 period to reach at the level of fully sophisticated capitalism.”

Going to the issue of capitalism, Wang says that the Communist revolution came to an end with the death of Chairman Mao in China. There is all now left is a thrust for development and a search for more vibrant system that helps people to have what they want. Coming to the conclusion, “we are at the early stage of capitalism in China,” he says.

Q & A

Addressing the question related to China seeking legitimacy in economic terms in the contemporary world, Pons said that there is a kind of mood, which makes it seem like that China, is seeking for legitimacy in economic fronts. However, he added that it is in a totally different approach. During the 20th century, search for legitimacy was an alternative modernity. But these days, it has changed. Now, if China seeks for legitimacy it would be connected with what. “That remains a question,” Pons said.

Delving into the question whether capitalism is closer to the human nature or is it inherited with the human, Wang said that this could be possible. “But in case of China, people were more inclined to communism because it was related with their dignity and saving the country from external forces and attacks,” Wang said. Communism failed and it was more a political failure than as an economic failure. “The economic repercussions of that failure came later,” Wang added. Seventy-eight years ago, people were hardly concerned about the issue of legitimacy. In recent times, people have been much more concerned about the source of legitimacy in China as well.

Rest of the questions were related to pros and cons of Soviet Union, negative impact of communism and why Chines people are being more and more inclined towards asking for personal space as called freedom and strikingly searching for source of legitimacy of power and party rule.

Report by: Bhoj Raj Poudel




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