The Communist Road to Capitalism

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

by Ralf Ruckus | PM Press, July 2021

The book just came out. If you want to order a copy, please, check out this page on the PM Press website.

Events, reviews and interviews

Video-Discussion DSA San Francisco organized an online panel discussion with Dong Yige, Zhang Yueran, Chris Connery, and Ralf Ruckus on September 18, 2021. The book gets introduced at the beginning. Please, watch the video here: Conflict in China. 1949 to Now (on youtube).

InterviewKersplebedeb published this interview with Ralf Ruckus in early September: Struggles from Below in the People’s Republic of China.

Podcast – In August 2021, John Shannon of Radio Free Galisteo spoke with Ralf Ruckus about the book and related topics. Please, listen to the podcast on Spotify or PlayerFM.

Details on the book

The book is a historiography of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and delineates social struggles and responses of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.

It covers the period following the PRC’s founding in 1949, the socialist period after the mid-1950s, the transition from the mid-1970s onward, and the post-socialist or capitalist period after the mid-1990s.

Click here for a PDF of the full contents.

The book is not meant as mere intellectual exercise or historical description. With its left-wing and grassroots focus, it aims to inspire current debates on how to topple class rule and abolish capitalist exploitation, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression.

As a visual tool, it includes a narrative matrix (see below) that shows the main periods and subperiods of PRC history as presented in the book:

 

Book announcement and recommendations

The Communist Road to Capitalism explores how a dynamic of social struggles from below followed by countermeasures of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime has pushed the historical evolution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1949.

Under socialism until the mid-1970s, during the ensuing transition until the mid-1990s, and in the capitalist period since, struggles of workers, peasants, migrants, and women* were answered by the CCP regime with a mix of repression, concession, cooptation, and reform. Ralf Ruckus shows that this dynamic took the country into a new phase each time—and eventually all the way from socialism to capitalism: in the 1950s, labor struggles and the Hundred Flowers Movement were followed by the regime’s Great Leap Forward; in the 1960s, the Cultural Revolution led to the CCP’s failed attempt to revitalize socialism; in the 1970s, social unrest and movements for a democratic socialism made room for the regime’s Reform and Opening policies; in the late 1980s, the Tian’anmen Square uprising triggered more radical reforms; in the 1990s, peasant and state worker unrest could not stop the capitalist restructuring; and in the 2000s, migrant worker struggles led to concessions, tightened repression, and the regime’s global capitalist expansion strategy in the 2010s.

The Communist Road to Capitalism breaks with established orthodoxies about the PRC’s socialist “successes” and myths on its later rise as an economic power. It combines a historiography of workers’, peasants’, migrants’, and women*’s struggles with a searing critique of exploitation, authoritarian state power and gender discrimination under socialism and capitalism. Drawing lessons from PRC history, Ralf Ruckus finally outlines political aims and methods for the left that avoid past mistakes and allow to fight on for a society free of all forms of exploitation and oppression.

Recommendations

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