The Morning Star’s most prolific and enthusiastic apologist for the Chinese ruling class, Carlos Martinez (who also considers North Korea to be “socialist”), likes the book China’s Great Road: Lessons for Marxist Theory and Socialist Practices. He praises the author, John Ross, for making it “very clear that China’s successes are those of socialism”. The Morning Star website puffs Ross’s book as its no.1 must-read.
What makes China socialist? Martinez, paraphrasing Ross, explains: “Even with the huge quantities of private capital and the presence of foreign investment and the existence of stock exchanges and billionaires, the Chinese government maintains a dominant role in the economy via its ownership of the major banks and state-owned enterprises. Planning continues to be a core element of the economic system.”
So that’s socialism, is it? A market economy but with state ownership of the banks and some enterprises? So much for Marx and Engels, who repeatedly rejected the idea that state ownership equals socialism. In his pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels spelt it out:
“Certainly, if the taking over by the state of the tobacco industry is socialistic, then Napoleon and Metternich must be numbered among the founders of socialism.”
Who is this John Ross, who waxes so lyrical about the wonders of what he perceives to be “socialism” in China? Some readers may be surprised to learn he was once a Trotskyist. After a brief excursion into Maoism as a student, he became prominent in IS (forerunner of the SWP), and then from 1971-2 the central figure in the International Marxist Group (forerunner of today’s largely-invisible Socialist Resistance, but then sizeable and visible). When the IMG broke up in 1985, Ross led the faction which became known as Socialist Action. He appears still to have connections with it.
Socialist Action turned its attention to the corridors of power, and members such as Redmond O’Neill and Simon Fletcher became key people in Ken Livingstone’s inner team after his victory in the London Mayoral election of 2000. Ross had been in Moscow, advising financial institutions on embracing capitalism. He dashed back to be Livingstone’s economic adviser during the mayoral race and then, for a lush salary, Livingstone’s Director of Economic and Business Policy.
He is now a senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. He contributes to several Chinese state-controlled news media including CGTN and China Daily.
There is nothing wrong with admiring the Chinese people, and its culture and history. But let’s be clear: Ross is a bought-and-paid for lackey of the Chinese state, one of a number of expatriate American and British academics who make a living telling the Chinese ruling class what it wants to hear about itself.
Ross, coming from a supposedly “Marxist” background, is especially useful to the Chinese rulers: he claims that, having privatised large parts of the economy since 1978 and accepted massive inequality while continuing to suppress independent worker organisation and free speech, “China’s post-reform economic policy is in line with Marx’s analysis of socialism and the economics of post capitalist societies.”
Ross’s crimes are not just against Marxism — they are also against human decency. Writing on his blog (Learning From China) in October 2015 (during Xi Jinping’s visit to Britain) he advised Jeremy Corbyn, who was scheduled to meet Xi, thus: “I cannot put words in someone else’s mouth, but my summary of the basis for an honest discussion with China would be roughly the following: ‘President Xi, the world rightly greatly admires China’s progress in the improvement in the conditions of human beings, of human rights in the real sense – which are the greatest of any country in the history of the world. We should discuss how other countries can draw lessons from these achievements’.”
Ross has regularly disparaged those who have questioned the Chinese state’s record on human rights. When in February this year the BBC published new evidence of mass repression of the Uyghurs, the Chinese press cited a tweet in which Ross said that “coordination of the BBC with military intelligence,” had come “from a special office inside BBC headquarters.”
He has also tweeted that “‘Just another Chinese city’ [is] exactly what Hong Kong is, 0.5% of China’s population and much smaller than Beijing, Shanghai, etc. The sooner parts of its population drops its arrogant attitude of ‘superiority’ to China, rather like the attitude of whites in the US South, the better” (13 June 2019).
George Orwell, writing about another ex-Trotskyist who became an admirer of authoritarianism, James Burnham, noted: “Power-worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible”. That just about sums up Mr Ross.
• In writing this piece JD has made use of Paul Mason’s article 'Why the left must condemn China’s brutal authoritarianism' (New Statesman, 5 August 2020) and various posts by Andrew Coates at his blog Tendance Coatesy.