The Communist Road to Capitalism

How Social Unrest and Containment Have Pushed China’s (R)evolution since 1949

by Ralf Ruckus | PM Press, May 2021

The Communist Road to Capitalism is an in-depth exploration of the central role that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) played in China’s transformation from socialism to capitalism. Many interpret this transition as the result of the “betrayal” by reformers in the Party who wanted to establish capitalism. Ralf Ruckus reveals that the planned economy of socialist China not only created a class society under CCP rule that was based on exploitation, repression, gender division, and social exclusion but also led to class struggles against the new socialist ruling class—like mobilizations of workers and students during the Hundred Flower Movement in the mid-1950s and the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s, culminating in the 1989 worker and student uprising in Tian’anmen Square.

In typical authoritarian fashion, the Party leadership reacted with repression and rigid policies that were meant to strengthen and consolidate power. The restructuring of the state sector, as well as foreign investments, industrialization, migration, and urbanization, fundamentally altered the economy, the gender regime, and the composition of the working class. Large-scale struggles of the “old” socialist working class, and of the “new” migrant working class in the new millennium forced the CCP regime to adapt its economic and political strategies for fear of more escalations of social struggles.

By carefully tracing these developments, Ruckus provides us with an invaluable insight into how this would ultimately transform the CCP leadership itself, turning it into the core of the newly composed capitalist ruling class that is still in power today. While breaking with established orthodoxies that dominate stale discussions about China’s rise as an economic power, The Communist Road to Capitalism is both a bold reinterpretation of the history of the People’s Republic of China and a searing critique of centralized state power. This book appeals to those who wish to better understand the dynamics and power of social struggles and the measures taken by governments to contain them through repression and cooptation.

Check the book announcement on the PM Press website
and the one-page information sheet (PDF).


The global left is terribly confused about China. Thankfully, Ralf Ruckus has responded powerfully to this problem, one that has been made all the more urgent by China’s increasingly global ambitions and the attendant intensified imperial rivalry with the US and its allies. Undertaking a thorough and systematic analysis of evolving political, social, and economic dynamics, he reveals how China’s failed experiment with socialism laid the groundwork for its more recent explosive capitalist growth. But he also shows that the transition to capitalism was neither inevitable, nor is its victory final. Highly recommended!
Eli Friedman, Professor of International and Comparative Labor (Cornell University) and author of Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China

What we in the western world take for granted and consume – clothes, computers, watches, mobile phones, etc. – depends largely on work and workers in today’s China. Yet, work and workers in China have been almost invisible on the two sides of the Atlantic over the years. This book opens a window on the times and circumstances that ordinary women and men in China have gone through since the late 1940s. Ralf Ruckus unfolds a story of advancements, defeats, repressions, and revolts for better standards of living, individual and collective rights, freedom of expression and residence, dignity. This book will be indispensable to those who are not satisfied with grand geopolitical overviews about China, and who want to look closely into People’s Republic China’s past and current trends.
Ferruccio Gambino, veteran Italian activist, co-editor of the journal altre ragioni, and lecturer on international migrations at the University of Padua

It is striking, with everything that has been written about contemporary China, how few works put the Chinese working class, in reality the key to China’s situation, front and center. Ralf Ruckus’s book is an excellent corrective to this lack. The Chinese working class, by its location in the world’s workshop, will shake the world as the Russian working class did in 1917, hopefully with a happier outcome.
Loren Goldner, Co-Editor of Insurgent Notes

This highly original book traverses a range of contexts that will appeal to readers interested in nature and meaning of transition from socialism to capitalism in China. Of interest to both China experts and leftist activists, this timely book will help readers better understand both the complex history of the Communist Party of China and the contemporary nature of class struggle. Innovative in method and surprising in its findings, this superb book will prove to be a landmark work in advancing the field of Chinese labor history.
Andrej Grubacic, Professor of Anthropology (CIIS-San Francisco) and co-author of Living at the Edges of Capitalism and Wobblies and Zapatistas

While there is renewed interest in socialism the world over, there seems to be consensus that socialism has not yet been realized. Even if this is true, it is curious how little time the socialist left spends on studying movements that claim to clear the path towards it. This is the reason why The Communist Road to Capitalism is essential reading. Authored by a seasoned labor activist and scholar whose knowledge about working-class struggles in China is second to none, this book helps us answer some of the crucial questions of our time: Is there a way to socialism? Have we advanced on it? How do we reach its end?
Gabriel Kuhn, editor of Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture

At a time when the international Left faces the political tasks of developing critical perspectives on a rising China, The Communist Road to Capitalism presents a theoretically sophisticated analysis on a how a ‛communist’ regime became one of the most successful capitalist economies today – successively precipitating and averting social crises – and posed a challenge to the American global hegemony, while revisiting and reevaluating analytical concepts and important left questions toward a new understanding of China for the Left.
Kevin Lin, labor activist and co-editor of the journal Made in China

Ralf Ruckus has given us a vital tool: a concise history that grasps the conflict between rulers and ruled as the driver of China’s transformations from 1949 to the present. This book is crucial for anyone who wants to understand what happened in the twentieth century, and what may happen in the twenty-first.
Elliott Liu, political organizer and author of Maoism and the Chinese Revolution: A Critical Introduction

In this brave and sweeping account, Ralf Ruckus argues that a pattern of unrest, containment and reforms, driven by deep and complex class contradictions, should play a central role in our understanding of the great transformations China has gone through over the last seven decades. Ruckus’ wide-ranging yet superbly organized narrative shows how rebellions and legitimacy crises have repeatedly challenged the Communist Party regime throughout its rule and provoked contingent reactions from above that led China down a path no actors had anticipated. This insightful reinterpretation of the history of the People’s Republic of China holds important implications for both intellectual and activist audiences.
Zhang Yueran, PhD student in sociology at UC-Berkeley and author of The Forgotten Socialists of Tiananmen Square