A Place in the Sun: Marxism and Fascism in China's Long Revolution.
Few scholarly observers of Chinese politics today would disagree with A. James Gregor's assessment that "little remains of the Marxism of Communist China" (p. 215) other than its use as an ideological subterfuge by the ruling party to bolster its claim to a monopoly on political power in that country. But few would agree with the central thesis of this book that the People's Republic of China (PRC) is best classified by scholars and responded to by Western policymakers as "a variant of contemporary fascism" (p. 166).
Much of the book is a taxonomic exercise that Gregor undertakes in order to dispel what he sees as the "great confusion" exhibited by social scientists in trying to "categorize the system that emerged out of the wreckage of what had been Maoist China" (pp. 163-4). The book is structured to build the case that Chinese communism, which killed millions of people and brought economic and social ruin to the country under Mao, has given way to Chinese fascism. In the author's view, post-Mao China has achieved considerable economic success but still maintains an iron-fisted grip on the nation's political life while exhibiting prototypically fascist irredentist tendencies in its international behavior.
Gregor places fascist China within the "genus" of political movements he labels "reactive developmental nationalism," which he sees as the key to "Understanding the Twentieth Century" (the sweeping title of the opening chapter). These movements and the regimes they have spawned reflect the common reactions by revolutionary parties and leaders in countries around the globe to the common challenges of economic "retardation" and humiliation, bullying, or outright imperialist aggression by stronger powers. All reactive developmental nationalist systems share political traits, such as a "single, elitist, hegemonic party ... led by a `charismatic' and `inerrant' leader" (p. 65), mass mobilization to build regime support, and a political army. They also pursue similar objectives for their beleaguered nations, namely, rapid industrialization and, most important, "a place in the sun" that will establish or recapture the country's security and status in the international system.
One "species" of the reactive developmental nationalism genus is comprised of totalitarian regimes, which in turn incorporate several "subspecies," including fascism, national socialism, and communism in its many national variants, such as Bolshevism, Stalinism, and Maoism. These regimes are ruthlessly dictatorial and exhibit a "bitter anti-imperialism" (p. 92) that often leads to an irredentist and aggressive foreign policy. In contrast, the nontotalitarian species of the genus are not implacably hostile to democracy and combine a staunch antiimperialism with an eagerness to engage the world on the basis of mutual respect and benefit. The examples of this species that receive the most attention in Gregor's analysis are prefascist Italian nationalism and, particularly, Sun Yat-Sen's "Three Principles of the People" ideology and his Kuomintang (Nationalist Party).
At several points Gregor praises the foresight of the nineteenth-century theorist, Friedrich List, for his early formulation of ideas about the dynamics of world politics that are very similar to those of reactive developmental nationalism. He also argues that fascist theory, because it recognized the central role of nationalism in motivating political movements, has provided a particularly accurate and astute guide to understanding the twentieth century. The perceptive insights of both List and the fascists are sharply juxtaposed to the "theoretical incompetence" and "howling implausibility" (p. 68) of Marxism's emphasis on misguided class analysis and spurious internationalism.
How does Gregor fit contemporary China into this taxonomy? He emphatically contends that the reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping beginning in the late 1970s completely severed the even tenuous ties with Marxism that the PRC had during the Mao years and led to the establishment of a paradigmatically fascist system in China. He notes that Maoist China had some fascist traits, but the socially divisive insistence on class struggle and the imposition of a command economy ran counter to fascism's core value of national unity and the role of the market (under the supervision of a strong state) to promote economic development. Deng remained committed to political dictatorship, but he renounced class struggle and rallied the nation to unite--under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party--around the goal of modernization via a revived semimarket economy.
Furthermore, post-Mao China under both Deng and his successor, Jiang Zemin, has embarked on a foreign policy marked by aggressive irredentism. Gregor's evidence includes Chinese policy toward Taiwan and in the East and South China Seas; steps by the PRC to build up and expand the reach of its naval forces; and a regime-sponsored effort to construct a racially based "myth of descent" (p. 162) to prove that China is the birthplace of the earliest human civilization. Such systemic and policy changes lead Gregor to conclude that "the regime on the Chinese mainland has taken on those critical features that have always been employed to identify fascist rule everywhere in the world" (p. 142). He musters further support for his argument by drawing on the works of "the best Fascist theoreticians in the interwar years," whose own "defining traits of fascism" (p. 216) provide a near-perfect description of post-Maoist China.
Another major thread of Gregor's book is the analysis of Sun Yat-Sen's legacy in China's long and still unfolding revolution. According to Gregor, Sun was a classic proponent of the most positive subspecies of reactive developmental nationalism. He was prescient in his belief that China's salvation could come only through capitalist-friendly economic growth and an antiimperialism that both safeguarded Chinese sovereignty and welcomed foreign trade and investment. In fact, Sun so clearly emerges as the paragon of Gregor's analysis that it is very tempting to read an intentional or unintentional pun into the book's title.
Gregor sees considerable consonance between the ideology of Sun Yat-Sen and that of Deng Xiaoping--but with at least two fundamental exceptions. First, Sun's "affable nationalism" has little in common with the "exacerbated and aggressive nationalism" (p. 95) of fascists like Deng. Second, although Sun recognized the need for a protracted period of political tutelage under a single party, he never wavered from his "unqualified commitment to ultimate democratic rule" (p. 165) for China. Gregor refutes the view that Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang or one of its most powerful and influential factions, the Blue Shirt Society, turned toward fascism following Sun's death in 1925. The party was thwarted in its efforts to implement all or part of Sun's mandate on the mainland by communist insurrection and Japanese invasion. But the full democratization of Taiwan under the auspices of the Kuomintang in recent decades is cited as proof that the party has been "inspired throughout its history by Sun's democratic, non-totalitarian, reactive and developmental nationalism" (p. 217).
Besides offering his taxonomic exercise as a guide for scholarly analysis of Chinese politics, Gregor has an explicit second purpose in identifying the proper classification for the regime that governs the PRC: to sound a warning to the Western world about the impending threat posed to its vital interest by a fascist China. He notes that fascist systems "have been singularly hostile and aggressive" and "have been prepared to employ massive violence" (p. 217) in pursuit of their irredentist objectives. In his view, China will be no exception.
The greatest strength of this book is its thought-provoking, erudite, and eloquent--if often redundant--analytical survey and classification of some of the great political movements of modern times. Students of comparative revolutions will find much to contemplate in Gregor's observation that, whatever their ostensible ideological differences, these movements share many fundamental features as variants of reactive developmental nationalism.
But Gregor is on somewhat thinner ground in his attempt to fit modern Chinese political history and contemporary politics into this framework. Many China specialists will, for example, his find his depiction of the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-Shek to be naively benign and question the validity of citing Taiwan's recent political transition as evidence for Chiang's adherence to Sun Yat-Sen's untested commitment to eventual democratization.
As one of the world's leading scholars of fascism, Gregor certainly has the bona fides to know a fascist regime when he sees one. But his unflinching portrayal of the PRC today as a diehard fascist regime seems a rather injudicious conclusion to reach about a political system that is still very much in a state of flux. No doubt there are important and troublesome features of the regime that point in the direction of fascism. But there are many countervailing trends in China that a more nuanced effort to classify the nature of the current regime would have taken into account. Gregor would have made a much stronger case had he noted, for example, the Communist Party's increasing inability to exert control over or even maintain an organizational presence in various sectors of society; the rapidly expanding influence of the Internet and other modern means of communication; and the spread of at least quasi-democratic elections on the village level.
The last three chapters read, in large part, like a scholarly tract intended to support the views of the so-called Blue Team of conservative politicians, think tank types, journalists, and others who see it as their mission to alert Americans to the "China threat" and steer the country away from the delusional policy of constructive engagement and toward strategic containment. In these chapters, the polemic ultimately overwhelms the scholarship and detracts significantly from what is otherwise a very stimulating book.
William A. Joseph, Wellesley College
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|Author:||Joseph, William A.|
|Publication:||American Political Science Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2001|
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