21st-century socialism and China

HEINZ DIETERICH from Germany is a world-renowned sociologist and political analyst who first proposed the concept of 21st-century socialism, which has influenced many Latin American countries. Dieterich has also closely followed China’s development in the past decades. What has led to China’s great success? What can China’s success contribute to the development of socialism around the world? Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) spoke to Dieterich in an exclusive interview. Interviewed by Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi for Global Times:

Could you elaborate on what 21st-century socialism is?

The first socialist countries in the world were built according to the thinking and science of Lenin and later Stalin in the Soviet Union. That was the socialism of the 20th century, which was built for an industrial society. It was very successful in many aspects, but at the end, in the 1980s, it entered a crisis, because the model had to be updated, modernized and adapted to the conditions of a new type of society, the digital society. It was built for industrial society. So when it entered the digital society, the model was not modernized. So it collapsed.

I coined the phrase “21st-century socialism” to indicate it would be the same idea of a brotherly, classless society for all, which was the original idea of Karl Marx, but that it had to be adapted to the new conditions of technology, of politics and so on.

The liberal democracy in Western democracies is not a real democracy. It’s basically a virtual democracy because only once in four years people have real power when they vote. The rest of the time they have no real political power. And 21st-century socialism has to offer something better. It should and will give people much more participation in diverse aspects.

What role do you believe China can play in the development of socialism on a global scale this century?

China is the only country which is economically powerful, has very important science and a high understanding of Marxism. This gives China a unique position in this historic task to build the socialism of the 21st century. China would be the answer from the progressive side of history to the basic problems of society, ecology, politics, economy, injustice, and real democracy, which have not been solved by the bourgeois. China has the best possibilities to contribute together with progressive Western scientists and politicians to that aim. China doesn’t want to export its model, but, if it’s the best, it becomes the reference point.

From your perspective, what are the reasons for China becoming the most successful socialist country in the world? Can these circumstances or China´s experiences be repeated or learned by other countries?

You could never export and impose the social model of one country on another, because each country is a different universe. But there are also common problems and certain common solutions.

For example, there are several keys to this success of China. The first one is the quality of the Party. For nearly 100 years, the Party has been able to maintain its character as a vanguard of adaptation to change. The parties which could not do that already disappeared like that in the Soviet Union, or Communist parties in Europe. Second, you have also had exceptional political leaders. These are the two most important instruments of change.

The third instrument has been the scientific planning of transformations. The five-year plans play a central role in China. They put forward short-term planning together with middle and long-term planning. The amazing thing is that these plans have been fulfilled basically through the last years in China, while in the Soviet Union or Cuba they never reached the parameters of the plans because their plans were not realistic.

Will a successful socialist China become a threat to the world and international order? Will there be a clash of “civilizations” or “ideology” between a socialist China and the US or other Western countries?

Whether you want or not, if there are new players in the field, inevitably, you begin to compare the productivity and the efficiency of each player, and people want to know who the best player is. And other countries will imitate or reproduce the best player. In this case, there will be an unavoidable effect of China´s industry and other economic policies. So the direct economic objective of the Trump administration was to avoid China succeeding.

And in a capitalist environment, which is always a competitive environment, it is inevitable that a new player is a rival. But it is too late for the US to neutralize China. I believe the world system will be multipolar. There will be EU, China, US, and in 10 years, we must accept India. We have to find the rational approach to avoid this clash of players in the same market and the same field, which would be dangerous.

How do you evaluate the vitality of socialism this century?

Marxism is not a philosophy. It is a scientific paradigm for understanding and changing the reality. But Marx at that time did not have the technological means that we have today. In the economic sphere, the criticism about Marx and Lenin was that it is impossible that the human mind can coordinate a modern, gigantic economic system.

But today we have computers, we have internet in real time distribution of information and data. We also have 5G technology and new mathematics. With all these changes in science and technology, we can discuss again the relation between market in private capital and the planning from the side of the state representing the general interest of the nation. It will help us build an economy with highly efficient function and where there will be no poor people and no rich people.

Secondly, we have to differentiate: the socialism of the 20th century has collapsed in many countries, but today’s socialism, for example, China’s socialism, is more adapted to the 21st century. It had an evolution, and adapted to the new conditions. It moves toward a new model which Marx would totally agree with.

Now you have, on the one hand, the advancement of the Chinese experience, and on the other hand, an increasing crisis of the Western system. Today there is basically economic crisis in all capitalist countries, and on a political level, as Vladimir Putin said, liberal democracy, or bourgeois democracy, has become obsolete. That’s why people don’t believe in it anymore, and that’s why people like Donald Trump appeared.

Countries that are most influenced by 21st century socialism theory seem to be Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Why were these Latin American countries the first to adopt 21st century socialism? Is it possible that Western countries will be influenced by this theory?

Latin America had economic problems in the 1980s and 1990s, and the neoliberal experiments, in general terms, did not improve the situation of the people, except in Chile. So they were looking for alternatives. And so there were social democratic alternatives like Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina, and then Chavez appeared. Chavez managed to organize all these transformational forces. So people thought that a better economy was possible, and since this was linked by many of the leaders to 21st century socialism, they adopted the idea.

The second factor is that Latin America had the most active social movements in the 1980s. They had strong union movement, peasant movement, workers movement, students and so on. So it was and is a very lively society.

For other countries and regions, it´s also possible to build 21st century socialism. In fact, we wrote a program for the transition of the EU to 21st century socialism when there was a crisis in 2008. It was like a 10-page program, which had to do with the financial sectors. The basic element was if you do not control the financial sector, which controls the industrial sector, then you cannot have a steadily growing economy. There was a project for a different role for the European Central Bank, which now essentially plays the role of stabilizing the capital system crisis situation, and gives it a more directing role toward the benefit of the people and full employment.

There were a number of suggestions we made, but the situation in Europe is that people live quite well in almost all countries, so they are content with the situation. They understand that they really don’t have freedom or real political participation in the system because they don’t decide anything, but as long as they have a good income, they accept the deal with relatively good living standards. So unless or until the living standards of the middle classes in Europe deteriorate like in the US, for example, the people will not look for alternatives.

In the context of this age, when a new international situation and domestic problems appear, what advice do you have for China?

China has now a middle class of 400 million people, and in 10 years, this is supposed to be 800 million or 900 million people. This means China has created new social classes as well as big corporations. What will all these power sectors negotiate in 10 years? Will the power structure in the country change? That leads to the basic problem of the current socialist systems.

Western democracy is basically a fraud, and the so-called liberal elections are basically a circus instead of the real popular power. Then how do you convince the masses that even though they do not have liberal elections, they have more democracy than in the US for example? That is another central question. You have to offer something better. The democracy of socialism will give people much more influence. For example, you should let people use the 5G or their smartphone to participate and express their opinions. That gives you the chance to maintain a vanguard Party and the development of the new social classes.