Standing in contrast to the assertions of Trump are the views of Minqi Li, a Chinese intellectual who migrated to the United States in 1994 and obtained a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Massachusetts, and who now is Professor of Economics at the University of Utah. In The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy, he notes that from the early nineteenth century to 1950, China experienced a significant economic decline. He writes that China’s GDP accounted for one-third of the gross world product in the early nineteenth century, but it had fallen to less than five percent by 1950. Similarly, the gap in per capita income between China and the leading states of Western Europe was 2:1 in the early nineteenth century, but it had widened to 20:1 by 1950. “China was reduced to being one of the poorest populations in the world” (Li, 2008:24).
But the triumph of socialism in China in 1949 established the political conditions for creating an alternative reality. A transformation was accomplished through the nationalization of industry and the establishment of state ownership of industrial enterprises; and through an agrarian reform program that confiscated the property of landholders and distributed it to landless and poor peasants. As a result, China’s long decline was reversed, and the basic human needs of the people were met. In the Maoist period of 1950 to 1976, China’s growth rate surpassed that of the major Western powers and was significantly better than the world average. Moreover, a system of centralized planning facilitated the development and diffusion of industrial and agricultural technologies that enabled the subsequent rise of China that began in the 1980s (Li, 2008:30-38).
In Li’s view, the achievements of the Chinese Revolution during the Maoist period demonstrated the superiority of socialism over capitalism in providing for the basic human needs of the people in a social and economic situation defined by high levels of poverty.
The achievements of Revolutionary China in advancing people’s physical and mental potentials were nothing sort of a spectacular success and demonstrated convincingly the superiority of socialism over capitalism from the working people’s point of view, in the context of peripheral and semi-peripheral countries. These achievements were not simply the outcome of redistribution of income which sometimes some capitalist states could also accomplish, but resulted from the systematic operations of a socio-economic system that was oriented towards the basic needs of the working people rather than profitmaking (Li, 2008:35, 37).
The Soviet Union, Revolutionary China, Cuba, and other historical socialist states represented a distinct form of state organization. These states were the historical product of great workers’ and peasants’ revolutions, and their internal economic and political relations were relatively favorable for the working people. It was in their abilities to meet the “basic needs” of the greatest majority of the population that China and other historical socialist states distinguished themselves from the rest of the peripheral and semi-peripheral states in the capitalist world-economy (Li, 2008:31).
At least in the realm of underdevelopment, where hunger and malnutrition are part of the daily reality, socialism rather than capitalism is the form of organization of production and distribution of goods and services that better responds to the immediate socioeconomic needs of the majority of these populations (cited in Li, 2008: 31).
The opinion of Donald Trump is widely held in the United States and other nations of the North. However, it is not necessarily a view that is based on empirical observation of the historical social-economic reality in which the political project of socialism has been forged. Nor is it based on personal encounter with the social movements of the neocolonized peoples of the earth, whose insights into the global structures of domination and into the possibilities for their emancipatory transformation require the serious consideration of all who seek to understand.
For more reflection on the Cuban Revolution and its meaning for the world-system, please see my book, The Evolution and Significance of the Cuban Revolution: The light in the darkness.
Li, Minqi. 2008. The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Navarro, Vicente. 1993. “Has Socialism Failed? An Analysis of Health Indicators under Capitalism and Socialism.” Science & Society 57(1):6-30 (Spring).