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PREFACE

Over the past 30 years, the economic transformation of China has greatly improved the lives of the Chinese people. However, under the reign of Xi Jinping, China has begun to assert its power on the international stage. The Xi administration has also instituted many reforms such as the Social Credit system, asserted China's claim over nearby territories and the South China Sea, built up the military, encouraged the technological advancement of industry, purged his rivals(aka "anti-corruption campaign"), and has taken on a lot of national debt. The Xi regime has also begun to limit expat visas and encouraged greater nationalist sentiment within China.

I understand that this has been done to strengthen the Chinese nation, protect the economic gains of the past few decades and, in theory, ensure future growth.

Looking at the comparison of Communism vs Fascim a few obvious things jump out at me:

  1. Ideas: within Communism, "The government should own all means of production and land and also everything else. People should work for the government and the collective output should be redistributed equally."

This is only partially true in modern China. Yes, the Chinese government owns all the land, but they have relinquished total-control over the means of production and do not redistribute collective output equally. The fact that China now has billionaires says it all.

Fascism, on the other hand, is a "Union between businesses and the State, with the state telling the business what to do". This seems to more accurately describe China.

  1. Economic Coordination: While neither description accurately describes modern-day China, I'd say the Fascist system better describes their current system.

    1. Social Structure: I have no doubt that the Chinese government downplays the idea of Class and differences between people's station in life. However, there's no doubt that being a member of the Communist Party comes with many privileges. Bureaucrats and Communist Party officials take bribes and use their position for personal gain. While this is not uniquely Communist by any means, in practice, it does constitute a class of people positioned above the rest of society -- a Bourgeoisie of sorts.

My own observations indicate an increase in nationalism within China. While, it is currently not "Extreme Nationalism", if it suits their goals and is encouraged by the Chinese Communist Party, it seems like this could change.

One might argue that they've become more Capitalist, which in some respects is true. Except, under the surface the reality is very different. For more specifics about what I mean by this point, check out the following video https://youtu.be/4cwXifDaCjE. It should provide some context.

Definition

capitalism n. An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development occurs through the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market. n. The state of having capital or property; possession of capital. Source: The American Heritage Dictionary

NOTE: For all you nitpickers reading this, the aforementioned points are intended to paint a general picture based on my personal observations. I'm sure we could argue until we're blue in the face about specifics. So please don't. Also, there's more to Fascism than racism and it would be appreciated if we could focus on all aspects, including: social, economic and governmental.

QUESTION

Given the prefaced points above, is communist China headed down a path towards Fascism? Especially, if they become more nationalist and militaristic.

  • I think there are important discussions worth having about the topics addressed here, but this question is not going to have a (mostly) objective answer. – BurnsBA Oct 31 '19 at 19:57
  • N.B. For a more in-depth discussion of capitalism see economics SE e.g. economics.stackexchange.com/questions/19913/… and the related questions linked from there. The dictionary definitions have some limitations. – Fizz Oct 31 '19 at 23:01
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    That is a VERY bad faith question. It is a bit surprising every time to see people trying to place an equality sign between socialism and fascism. Between capitalism and fascism - OK - final form of capitalism, a plutocracy, have good ties to fascism. – user2501323 Nov 6 '19 at 8:07
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    @user2501323 that's an unfair criticism. This is NOT a bad faith question. The official name of China's government is "The People's Republic of China". The ruling part is the "Chinese Communist Party". Over the past few decades they've had a massive economic boom due to the adoption of Capitalist ideals and a market system. Are they a Republic or a Communist state? Are they a Capitalist economy or a Communist controlled-economy? Such Orwellian dishonesty raises many questions. I, for one, would like some clarity on the matter. You don't belong to the CCP thought police by any chance, do you? – holaymolay Nov 29 '19 at 22:57
  • @holaymolay Yeah exactly. All of which is an indication of Communism, not fascism. Then you go on to accuse the person that criticizes you as being a CCP agent. Completely cementing user2501323's point of you having bad faith. – dan-klasson Apr 30 at 16:50
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This is obviously a controversial topic so opinions on it will certainly be divided if we consider Chinese self-labeling (they strongly reject being called "fascist"). But on the matter of economics, there's little doubt that they moved to a mixed economy, which they have trouble justifying on a pure Marxist basis.

So if you assume authoritarianism + mixed economy (with a large state-controlled sector) = fascism, then yes. Actuall, if you add oppression of minorities, in this case Uighurs or Tibetans (which again China denies it is doing), you have another dimension.

The Chinese, of course, strongly object to this conclusion, e.g.

A recent commentary from The Sydney Morning Herald’s international editor, Peter Hartcher, described China (along with Islamic State and Russia) as “fascist,” sparking an angry response from China’s Foreign Ministry. Yet the piece likely sparked cheers among people with similar views. [...] But the logic behind this piece does not stand firm. [...]

Criticizing China for its political reality, developmental model, and “non-cooperative” behavior is easy, but seeing and truly understanding the differences and divergences between civilizations is far more difficult — so much so that quite often people choose not to even try. Instead, they import a Western concept (in this case, fascism) to try and conceptualize a non-Western system.

Now, is China centralized? In general, yes — but how centralized? Actually, China is far less centralized than many outside observers assume. To cite one example: for years, fiscal decentralization between the central government and local provinces has played a critical role in the unbalanced flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the Chinese market. This decentralization has had several readily observable consequences, including different levels of economic growth and green development among the various regions. In his 2012 book, Pierre F. Landry described China’s political system as “decentralized authoritarianism.”

As for the final point, the nation (and the family) has a uniquely important role in China’s contemporary political philosophy. But this is not new, much less an invention of the current regime. Reverence for authority, emphasis on leaders’ moral quality, and collectivism have all been rooted in China’s political culture for thousands of years and these concepts have had natural and inevitable impacts on contemporary Chinese politics. Yet somehow this has made China unpopular in the eyes of the West and some Western media.

And the degree of authoritarianism is also a matter of some dispute. With all the suppression from the state and censorship, worker protests have been fairly numerous e.g.

China Labour Bulletin, an advocacy group in Hong Kong that tracks protests, recorded at least 1,700 labor disputes last year, up from about 1,200 the year before. Those figures represent only a fraction of disputes across China, since many conflicts go unreported and Mr. Xi has intensified censorship. [...]

As protests have multiplied, Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao, has sought to reassure workers that he understands their plight. [...]

Labor protests in China are common, and to avoid protracted conflicts, local officials often put pressure on businesses to settle disputes. But companies may be more unwilling — or unable — to do so now as they struggle to find money. [...]

Mr. Xi has expanded the party’s oversight of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the party-controlled organ that is supposed to mediate disputes for its more than 300 million members but often sides with management. He has also dismantled nonprofit labor advocacy groups, which in the past provided advice to workers and helped with collective bargaining.

In a crackdown in Shenzhen in late January, the authorities detained five veteran labor rights advocates and accused them of “disturbing public order,” a vague charge the party often uses against its critics. [...]

Despite the restrictions, activists have had some success in organizing protests across provincial lines, often with the help of social media. Crane operators across China coordinated a Labor Day strike last year that involved tens of thousands of workers from at least 10 provinces.

[...] Mr. Xi has particularly sought to suppress a resurgence of labor activism on college campuses, including a high-profile campaign for workers’ rights led by young communists at elite universities.

The activists have used the teachings of Mao and Marx to argue that China’s embrace of capitalism has exploited workers. Last summer, they tried to help workers in southern China organize an independent labor union, saying that corrupt local officials were colluding with managers to abuse workers.

The authorities have repeatedly tried to quash the protests, leading to the disappearances and detentions of more than 50 people associated with the campaign.

The authorities have responded so forcefully to the young communists in part because their demands are ideological, not material, said Professor Fu, who has studied unrest in China.

“To the government, calling out the party for not being Marxist is like children openly denouncing their birth parents,” she said. “It is seen as outright defiance and rejection of the state-led socialism.”

The degree of dissent de facto allowed in China, especially on economic issues, is somewhere in between a strongly authoritarian system (be it either North Korea or Nazi Germany) and democracies.

On militaristic adventures, insofar China has been fairly restrained compared even to Fascist Italy. Their building of islands etc. is a form of cold war, but they haven't invaded/colonized anyone yet.

So there are some reasonable analogies to draw with fascist states of the past, but there are also some difference, often of degree.

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    As for invasion, I assume you mean post-Maoist China? They invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950, followed by colonization, invaded India in 1962 to secure its claimed borders through occupation, invaded the SU in 1969 to take a bunch of tiny islands in some rivers, and invaded Vietnam in 1979, shortly after Xiaoping's initial reforms. I would guess the reason they haven't invaded anybody since then is because they don't have any unfulfilled claims that aren't held by US allies or Bhutan, where they are currently just ignoring Bhutanese territory and building stuff, since Bhutan isn't fighting. – gormadoc Nov 1 '19 at 14:35
  • but they continue to occupy those lands, and in the case of autonomous regions they continue to colonize and assimilate. They continue to bring in CP Han into Tibet in order to "improve" the region. – gormadoc Nov 1 '19 at 14:44
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    @gormadoc: Well, yes, because Maoist China was not known for much private property. Their invasion of Vietnam is a fair[er] point, perhaps. An interesting issue is that in part China did that to spite the Soviet Union (with whom they were already splitting ideologically), and they also told Cater about it in advance (as well warned the Soviets not to intervene). As for your second point, I've already mentioned the Chinese treatment of some minorities in my answer. – Fizz Nov 1 '19 at 14:44
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    Honestly, I actually thought the invasion of Vietnam was the weakest point. Since it was punitive rather than objective-oriented, it seemed like a relatively run-of-the-mill, if outdated, action. Fascist states have more concrete goals. I do like your answer, though I don't agree that they haven't colonized anyone. – gormadoc Nov 1 '19 at 17:12
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    Could it be argued that maybe it wasn't so much a fascist system before Xi Jinping, but because now that the power is becoming more centralized upon him, it's making moves (like we've also seen in a lot of other countries these days) into fascism? – The_Sympathizer Nov 2 '19 at 1:00
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The trouble is that "fascism" is not a single political philosophy; rather it is a collection of general ideas flying in loose formation.

One way to tackle this question is to score China against Umberto Eco's 14 points. There are other lists of Fascist characteristics, but Eco's is the easiest to do this with.

  1. Cult of Tradition. No. Maoism was a rejection of the "Five Olds". While the Party has come somewhat more to terms with the historical China, it certainly doesn't revere it.

  2. Rejection of Modernism. No. See above.

  3. Cult of action for action's sake. No. Xi Jinping Thought contains none of that.

  4. Disagreement is treason. Somewhat; as in any totalitarian system dissent is firmly suppressed. However it is not seen as "treason" except in extreme cases; the Chinese view seems to be more along the lines of errors that must be corrected. Not nice to be on the receiving end either way.

  5. Fear of difference: racism and xenophobia. Somewhat. Not being Han Chinese frequently means being 2nd class, and of course the "re-education centres" for the Uighurs are terrifying. However emphasis of racial or cultural difference is not a prominent aspect of party ideology.

  6. Appeal to frustrated middle class. No. Classical socialism of course rejects the middle class. Modern "socialism with Chinese characteristics" says that to be rich (i.e. striving, prosperous middle class) is glorious, but its not an ideological appeal to the middle class as a group.

  7. Obsession with a plot, and hyping of enemy threat. Yes, to an increasing degree. Claims that Covid-19 was a US bio-warfare plot are a case in point.

  8. Enemies cast as simultaneously too strong and too weak. Somewhat. Democracy is described as weak and disorganised, in contrast with the strong unified will of the party and Xi Jinping, while at the same time Imperialist capitalist nations are considered to be a threat requiring military spending.

  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy because life is permanent warfare. Not really. Anyone arguing for decreased military spending is likely to be suppressed (see 4 above), but "permanent warfare" is not part of party ideology.

  10. Contempt for the weak. This is contrary to classical socialism, and while the Chinese society is much more unequal, and the welfare state is weaker than it once was, the Party certainly doesn't preach contempt.

  11. Everyone is educated to become a hero, leading to death-cult tendencies. Not at all. Everyone wants to be rich.

  12. Machismo. Not really. Sexual equality is a standard part of classical socialist ideology, although this is honoured more in the breach than the observance. Chinese society does not celebrate machismo, and neither does party ideology. (Compare Xi Jinping's public image with Putin, for example).

  13. Selective Populism, with the Leader seen as embodying the will of the people. To some extent. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" with the Party in the vanguard (i.e. dictating the will of the proletariat to everyone else) is a standard part of Marxism. Mao turned this into a personality cult around himself. Subsequent Chinese leaders rejected personality cults, but Xi Jinping is heading in that direction.

  14. "Newspeak": an impoverished vocabulary to limit critical reasoning. I don't speak Chinese so I can't tell.

So overall the Chinese state is certainly authoritarian, but it does not seem to have any distinctive Fascist characteristics beyond that.

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  • Interesting analysis. The picture that clearly emerges, is of no clear picture! One gets the feel of an authoritarian society but one that appears to be nervous to maintain balance and responsiveness, and avoid extremes and absolutes. – Steve Jun 27 at 21:37
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China may be pretty authoritarian, but I still see it as more state capitalist than fascist. State capitalism is a form of capitalism where the government controls some property,resources, money,etc., but businesses tend to retain their autonomy and a lot of power under a market economy. As I wrote in a previous answer, China has embraced more private ownership and trying to claim land such as Socotra Rock to expand its own influence. Yet, after looking at fascism, I don't think China has truly made the transition to fascism as many people assume. For one, while China hasn't truly been Marxist since the 1970s, they still glorify Marxism and praise it. Fascist, however, tend to support a mixed economy and be both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist. Fascist tend to want to prevent preventing too much capitalism from allowing enemies of the state to take control and too much socialism to prevent economic growth or allow a state power to have complete economic control (ex: Hitler hated capitalism and warned against capitalism, calling America Germany's enemy filled with Jewish capitalists and called for nationalization of education and healthcare. However, Hitler also hated socialism and also saw it as a Jewish conspiracy so the Jews could potentially install their own leader in places like Germany to control everything. Mussolini also denounced socialism and claimed modern capitalism was leading to anti-nationalist consumerism and the "standardization of humankind"). Basically, a fascist government would not be praising capitalism or socialism and would instead create a mixed economy while claiming they created their own 'wholly unique system'.

Fascism also supports constant war to the point of survival of the fittest and that the state is only valuable if it fights wars on and on the guarantee only the strongest nation-state survives. Despite what China is doing in Nepal and its financial influence over Africa, China is not fighting constant direct wars against other nations or saying the state only exists to fight a never-ending war to eliminate its perceived foes, it isn't really following fascist doctrine. Honestly, other than the Axis Powers in World War II (who followed the constant warfare doctrine to their demise when Japan decided to make enemies with the United States and Nazi Germany fought a two front war against Britain and the USSR), they only group I believe follows this fascist doctrine well is ISIS: a fundamentalist group that denounces western capitalism and ideas like socialism while declaring war on the entire Western world and other Muslims who don't follow their doctrine, fighting a fight of 'survival of the fittest' until either they or their enemies fall.

tl;dr China is closer to state capitalist with some remains of its Maoist influence than fascist. When China decides to denounce both capitalist and Marxism, fight direct wars with neighboring countries like Japan and the United States to determine which state is the fittest, and declare that the state only exists to fight wars, then China isn't truly fascist.

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  • I think this answer could be a lot stronger if you explicitly defined "state capitalist" and how that compares to fascism and capitalism as defined in the question. – Brian Z Apr 24 at 22:55
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    Thanks for the suggestion. I will edit in a moment to include that. – Tyler Mc Apr 24 at 22:57
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Capitalism is an economic system. It's about the way goods are produced and distributed.

Fascism is a political movement, model, or form of government.

All forms of fascism, up to this day, have been related to capitalist societies. There was never a feudal society with a fascist government, for instance.

So your question doesn't make much sense. It is like asking if one should marry or buy a bycicle; there is no valid disjunctive here.

You write:

Ideas: within Communism, "The government should own all means of production and land and also everything else. People should work for the government and the collective output should be redistributed equally."

No communist that I know would subscribe this. In communism there should be no government (or State, which seems to be what who wrote this calls "government"). Something that doesn't exist cannot own the means of production, land, or anything else, and people cannot work for something that doesn't exist. Also, communism implies the abolition of value; if there is no value, then "the collective output should be redistributed equally" can only mean use values are distributed equally - which is insane: people with no disabilities do not need wheelchairs.

It is quite obvious that the Chinese State has been increasingly dependent on nationalism as an ideological construct for its functioning. But while fascism in the mid 20th century has strongly relied on nationalism, nationalism is much wider than fascism. All kinds of polities have depended on nationalism for their internal cohesion, including those we are used to consider as democracies. As, for instance, the United States.

And with phenomena like Bolsonaro popping around, I would say that there may be forms of fascism that aren't really nationalistic. Perhaps that should be obvious if we look at the fate of French or Norwegian local fascisms under Nazi domination, or the Republic of Salò: it seems they could cope quite well with foreign occupation, whithout losing their identity as fascist movements. It is perhaps the spectacular aspect of dominating fascism, with its world war and holocaust, that keeps us from seeing these abortive or decadent forms of fascism for what they are and were ?

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