Whatever It Takes’: The Political Economy of the Chinese Communist Party

Whatever It Takes’: The Political Economy of the Chinese Communist Party

Shaun Breslin & Giuseppe Gabusi

Providing an overview of 100 years of the political economy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not an easy task. This is not, however, because a century is an excessively long era to study. On the contrary, the problem is how short the period is. Or, more correctly, the problem is how quickly and how many times things have changed – and often rather dramatically – in such a relative short time scale. Studying all the changes in the post-Mao era alone would be enough to fill the pages of a number of books. But, if anything, the pace and extent of change in the first decade of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was even faster and more dizzying. And, as we are studying the CCP and not just the PRC, we should not forget that over a quarter of this century had passed before it even came to power.

Nevertheless, while it entails providing a broad-brush and, at times, stylised analysis of different eras, we argue that it is possible to identify unifying strands that cut across all of these 100 years (albeit at times in different ways). We do this by focusing on three fundamental issues that have been at the heart of the political economy of Chinese Marxism. The first is how the Party dealt with the missing (more or less) industrial base that Marx and Engels thought would be the determinant of the ideational change that would bring about a Communist revolution. The second is the Chineseness of Chinese Marxism. Since its very birth, the CCP incorporated in its DNA a nationalistic approach: the emphasis on the Party delivering China back to its rightful place in the world provides a thread that runs through the years. Moreover, rather than seeing the writings of Marx and Engels as providing a blueprint that had to be followed, there has instead been an emphasis on the need to treat Marxism as a rather flexible and malleable guiding theory. It is the specifics of the Chinese case that should dictate exactly what can and should be done at any moment in time and not the revolutionary expectations of the original Marxist texts. Our third constant is the importance of identifying the ‘primary contradiction’ facing the Party and the revolution at any given time.

We combine these three in a single emphasis on ‘Whatever It Takes’. This, in part, refers to an overarching objective to do what it takes to regain full sovereignty (that had been stolen by the colonial powers) and to ‘catch up’ with the West by turning China into a major modern(ised) economy. All China’s leaders have shared these goals.

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The project “European Hub for Contemporary China (EuroHub4Sino)” has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 101131737.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.