Responding to Chinese challenge with democratic socialism


As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) commemorates its 100th anniversary, Western countries are still struggling to define their attitude towards the Beijing regime. Let me say it straight away: the right answer lies in ending Western arrogance and promoting a new emancipatory and egalitarian horizon on a global scale, a new form of democratic and participatory, ecological and post-colonial socialism. If they stick to their usual lecturing posture and a dated hyper-capitalist model, Western countries may find it extremely difficult to meet the Chinese challenge.

Authoritarian and oppressive, the Beijing regime certainly has many weaknesses. According to the Global Times, the official daily newspaper, Chinese-style democracy is superior to the Western-style electoral supermarket, because it entrusts the country’s destinies to a motivated and determined avant-garde, both selected and representative of society (the CCP has 90 million members, 10% of the population), and ultimately more deeply involved in the service of the general interest than the average Western voter, versatile and impressionable.

In practice, however, the regime is becoming more and more like a perfect digital dictatorship, so perfect that no one wants to look like it. The model of deliberation within the party is all the less convincing because it leaves no trace outside, while on the contrary everyone can see more and more clearly the establishment of widespread surveillance on social networks, the repression of dissidents and minorities, the brutalization of the electoral process in Hong Kong , threats to electoral democracy in Taiwan. The ability of such a regime to appeal to the views of other countries (and not just their leaders) seems limited. We must add the sharp rise in inequality, the acceleration in ageing, the extreme opacity that characterizes the distribution of wealth, the feeling of social injustice that results from this and that cannot be permanently appeased by a few marginalizations.

Despite these weaknesses, the regime has strong assets. When climatic disasters occur, it will have no difficulty in stigmatizing the responsibilities of the former powers, which despite their limited population (about 15% of the world’s population for the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan taken together), account for nearly 80% of cumulative carbon emissions since the beginning of the industrial era.

More generally, China does not hesitate to recall that it industrialized without resorting to slavery and colonialism, of which it itself has borne the brunt. This allows it to score points in the face of what is perceived throughout the world as the eternal arrogance of Western countries, always quick to give lessons to the whole world in terms of justice and democracy, while showing themselves incapable of facing the inequalities and discriminations that undermine them and by making a pact with all the potentates and oligarchs who benefit from them.:

On the economic and financial level, the Chinese state has considerable assets, much greater than its debts, which gives it the means for an ambitious policy, both domestically and internationally, especially regarding investments in infrastructure and in the energy transition. . The public authorities currently hold 30% of everything there is to own in China (10% of real estate, 50% of companies), which corresponds to a mixed economy structure that is in many ways comparable to that found in the West during the period of prosperity 1950-1980 (known in France as the ‘trente glorieuses’).

Conversely, it is striking to note the extent to which the main Western states all find themselves in the early 2020s with almost zero or negative patrimonial positions. As a result of not having balanced their public accounts (which would have required a larger contribution from the richest taxpayers), these countries have accumulated public debts, while selling an increasing proportion of their public assets, so much so that the former ended up slightly overtaking the latter. Let me be very clear: rich countries are rich, in the sense that private wealth has never been so high; it is only their states that are poor. If they persist in this direction, they could end up with an increasingly negative public patrimony, which would correspond to a situation where the holders of debt securities own not only the equivalent of all public assets (buildings, schools, hospitals, infrastructure, etc.), but also a drawing right on an increasing share of future taxpayers’ taxes. On the other hand, it would be quite possible, as was done in the post-war period, to reduce public debt in an accelerated manner by draining the highest private assets, and thus to restore room for manoeuvre to the public authorities.

It is at this price that we will return to an ambitious policy of investment in education, health, the environment and development. There is also an urgent need to lift the rights on vaccines, to share the revenues of multinationals with the countries of the South and to put digital platforms at the service of the general interest. More generally, there is a need to promote a new economic model based on the sharing of knowledge and power at all levels, in business as well as in international organizations. Neoliberalism, by handing over power to the richest and weakening public power, in the North as well as in the South, has in reality only strengthened the Chinese model, as indeed has the pathetic Trumpist or Modist neo-nationalism. It is time to move on.