Engels on China

Three Gorges Dam, Francis turbine

Three Gorges Dam, Francis turbine

From Comments at The Virtual Politician:

Worth considering: ‘The war in China has given the death-blow to the old China. Isolation has become impossible; the introduction of railways, steam-engines, electricity, and modern large-scale industry has become a necessity, if only for reasons of military defence. But with it the old economic system of small peasant agriculture, where the family also made its industrial products itself, falls to pieces too, and with it the whole old social system which made relatively dense population possible. Millions will be turned out and forced to emigrate; and these millions will find their way even to Europe, and en masse. But as soon as Chinese competition sets in on a mass scale, it will rapidly bring things to a head in your country and over here, and thus the conquest of China by capitalism will at the same time furnish the impulse for the overthrow of capitalism in Europe and America…’

Engels to Friedrich Adolf Sorge in Hoboken; London, November 10, 1894, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 450-451



I am unfamiliar with Engels and Friedrich Adolf Sorge, let alone their designs upon destroying American and European capitalism. Might you expound a bit on that for us?



Hello zeroBelief,

Thank you for your interest. Essentially I quoted Engels not to argue for destruction but for how the world works – that the only absolute is change and that matter (objective reality) is primary to consciousness (that consciousness is the product of objective reality – what one thinks, whatever that may be, is secondary to and derivate of the world). Accepting these two points orients and focuses one’s thought on all subjects.

The one-party state in China, as you know, is demonised in capitalist ideology. Western ‘democracy’ is held up as the highest form of political organisation, the standard. But if there was a vote for anything that threatened their interests, the capitalist class would destroy it.

Look not only at the damage the Democrat/Republican divide is doing in the United States (a division which reflects the decline of their middle class – a global phenomenon – and exemplifies the increasing exposure of the opposed interests of their ruling and working classes), think of the enormous forces – economic and social, that are being impacted on by these divisions.

In China with its population of 1.3 billion (and as Engels foresaw) is taking place rapid economic development, following on the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. With that development, and dialectically informing it, is the equally rapid rise of millions into the middle class.

In the rise of capitalism, the middle class was the agent of individual representation and I believe that this rising middle class in China will put growing pressure for the recognition of the significance of the individual on their one-party state and that the engagement between these two forces (party and middle class) will result in forms of political, economic and social organisation within socialism that will be models for the world, as those in England were previously under capitalism.

I think that these developments, together with the benefits they bring, underscored by the vast size of the Chinese population will force similar and fundamental economic, political and social change on the Western (capitalist) nations. And this is what Engels foresaw in 1894, in outline.

We are witnessing and experiencing the unceasing, contradictory change of dialectics at work.

Regards, Philip



East Timor, Australia, Capitalism and Democracy

Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas, 11.12.89

Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas, 11.12.89

Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas, 11.12.89

Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas, 11.12.89

Fretilin supporters, 1975

Fretilin supporters, 1975

* Gough Whitlam, whose government was overthrown by a coup inspired by agents of US capitalism in 1975 would not tolerate criticism of his position regarding East Timor – that it could never be an independent nation.

* The footage of Foreign Minister Gareth Evans (now Chancellor of the Australian National University in Canberra) toasting Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, having signed the Timor Gap Treaty (regarding the exploitation of East Timorese oil and gas resources) in a jet above Timor Gap is unforgettable.

Images: 1st/2nd and 3rd


Documentary: Buried Alive – East Timor



Further Comment on Shamseer Keloth’s ‘Facing the Dragon’

Top political advisory body to discuss reform: Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), delivers a report on the work of the CPPCC National Committee's Standing Committee at the third session of the 12th CPPCC National Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 3, 2015.

Top political advisory body to discuss reform: Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), delivers a report on the work of the CPPCC National Committee’s Standing Committee at the third session of the 12th CPPCC National Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 3, 2015.

*   *   *

Hello Shamseer Keloth,

Of cognition Lenin wrote ‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality.’ We start with the world> we theorise about it (we look for what we think are the best/most ethical theories and consider and develop on them where we think it is possible, in relation to the world)> we (continually) test our theorising in the world. Practice (not abstract theorising) is primary.

The Chinese, through their very long history, have come to understand and learnt to do this (it can be seen in the Party’s policy developments particularly since Deng Xiaoping). In addition, for the first time in world history, the Chinese have two key elements in a developing relationship – a one-party socialist state and a rapidly rising middle class.

From this relationship will come forms of organisation which will be models for the world – economic, political and social.

The challenge to the Party will be to continue to show not only the benefits but the necessity of a one-party state (social cohesion, rising wealth and cultural development on the basis of the Party’s capacity both for long-term planning and timely decision-making [compare with the West]). Sensitivity to region and locality is just as important – the Party knows that their recent ‘crack-down’ on corruption is essential in this regard.

My view is that the Chinese are bringing to bear on their lives and future not only socialist theory but many lessons they have learnt through their history and are now getting ‘right’ what the Soviet Union was not able to.

How they continue to test and develop socialist theory in a practice which is above the merely pragmatic is central to this.




A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Four

To undo the concentration of power in the state, to foster democratisation and to benefit human rights Pogge theorises a curious ‘vertical dispersal’ of power. Not only does such a vertical dispersal already exist in government (federal, state and local), there are a range of government and non-government organisations.

Pogge’s understanding of the state is flawed. He compares the state with a game and ‘the ideal’ of a ‘level playing field.’33 The analysis of Marx and Engels exposed the state as the tool of the capitalist class, the purpose of which is, contrary to Pogge’s view, to ‘bend – or bias – the rules’ and to make the ‘field’ consistently ‘uneven’. The state is not a neutral structure.34

In defence of the state with regard to his global resource tax, Pogge gave the example of the suppression of the slave trade, writing ‘States do sometimes act for moral reasons.’35 Not only does his example echo the position of the United States capitalist class regarding its attack on Iraq – ‘We got nothing out of it’ – the reasons why states act are economic and geo-political, in the interests of their dominant class, never moral. Claims of morality are their first justification.

The position of the British capitalist class regarding the suppression of slavery was essentially the same as that of the rising capitalist class in the United States on the ‘liberation’ of slaves as a result of their Civil War – slavery had become an impediment to the development of capitalism. It had become more economical, more profitable for workers to be ‘free’ than in chains.

Benhabib’s writing on the state is much more grounded than Pogge’s. She points to the ‘epochal’ devolution of the state’s considerable powers, as a consequence of globalised capital, and the dangers this poses to its citizens.

Exemplifying my position that the state is the tool of the capitalist class, she writes that ‘in some cases, the state disburses its own jurisdiction to private agencies in order to escape the territorial control of popular legislators. …The fraying of the social contract and the dismantling of sovereignty suggest that the transcendence of the nation-state is occurring hardly in the direction of cosmopolitanism but more in the direction of the privatisation and corporatisation of sovereignty.’36 A very negative but very thoughtful note for a cosmopolitan to end their book on.

Part four/to be continued…


33. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, in: Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms, Polity Press, 2008, pp. 124-151, 127ff.

34. ‘By the mere fact that it is a class and no longer an estate, the bourgeoisie is forced to organise itself no longer locally, but nationally, and to give a general form to its mean average interest. Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the State has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organisation which the bourgeoisie necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests. …Since the State is the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests, and in which the whole civil society of an epoch is epitomised, it follows that the State mediates in the formation of all common institutions and that the institutions receive a political form. Hence the illusion that law is based on the will, and indeed on the will divorced from its real basis – on free will. Similarly, justice is in its turn reduced to the actual laws.’ K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, pp. 77-78. Pogge wrote ‘While my portrait of the noble team player may not, then, be typical of much that goes on in sport today, it nevertheless has, I believe, the kind of reality that matters here. It really is our widely held ideal by reference to which we still judge our athletes. And drawing on it is therefore appropriate to elucidate the political use of the “level playing field” metaphor.’, Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, op. cit., 128.

35. ‘there would still be the further question whether our governments could be moved to introduce and comply with such institutions. I think that an affirmative answer to this question can be supported by some historical evidence. Perhaps the most dramatic such evidence is provided by the suppression of the slave trade in the nineteenth century. Great Britain was in the forefront of these efforts, actively enforcing a ban on the entire maritime slave trade irrespective of a vessel’s ownership, registration, port of origin, or destination. Britain bore the entire cost of its enforcement efforts and could not hope to gain significant benefits from it – in fact, Britain bore additional opportunity costs in the form of lost trade, especially with Latin America. States do sometimes act for moral reasons.’, Pogge, ‘An Egalitarian Law of Peoples’, op. cit., 222.

36. ‘Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations – Reply to Commentators’ in Another Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., pp. 176-177.

A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Three

The cosmopolitan wonders what is valuable and common to all – that can be recognised by all as valuable. The answer is not reason or ‘reasonableness’ but our humanity itself – one’s need and care for others, one’s sociability. It is not reason or theory that should underlie a care and regard for others but a care and a regard for others stands as the foundation, by itself.

The materialist recognises that, quoting Milstein, ‘the cosmopolitan is above all concerned with the unavoidable confrontation of difference on the global stage. …the starting point for reflection on cosmopolitanism is not unity but heterogeneity…It thus concerns humanity not as a mere idea but as an empirical set of interacting participants who must learn to coexist simultaneously.’23

One’s care and regard for others – one’s humanity – is the basis for the acceptance of, embracing of difference, uncertainty and change, the recognition that in reasoning about and acting on these are the tools for interpersonal and personal development and for the deepening of our knowledge of the world.

Rather than presenting others with reasons or reasonability that is followable and requiring reasons of others in turn, the materialist seeks out difference and welcomes the incorporation of that difference in his or her perspective.

These unities of difference will contribute to the development of a richer, more meaningful social fabric. In her theorising on ‘the Scarf Affair’ in France Benhabib wrote ‘the girls themselves and their supporters, in the Muslim community and elsewhere, have to learn to give a justification of their actions with “good reasons in the public sphere.” In claiming respect and equal treatment for their religious beliefs, they have to clarify how they intend to treat the beliefs of others from different religions, and how, in effect, they would institutionalise the separation of religion and the state within Islamic tradition.’24

A materialist would welcome the girls and require nothing of them other than that they contribute productively to the society they have chosen to become members of. The influence will naturally flow in both directions, enriching French and human culture. Those in Western culture would do well to reflect on the debt they owe to Islamic scholarship.

Benhabib herself adds ‘The constitution of “we, the people” is a far more fluid, contentious, contested and dynamic process than either Rawlsian liberals or decline-of-citizenship theorists would have us believe. …The presence of others who do not share the dominant culture’s memories and morals poses a challenge to the democratic legislatures to re-articulate the meaning of democratic universalism. Far from leading to the disintegration of the culture of democracy, such challenges reveal the depth and the breadth of the culture of democracy.’25

Cosmopolitan philosophers, with their focus on individuals,26 fail to understand and address class relations in capitalist societies. This is well exemplified in their treatment of the state which is frequently regarded as a neutral framework, as something that ‘we’ might use for cosmopolitan purposes.

Sandel wrote that ‘the rights based self finds expression in the ideal of the state as a neutral framework.’27 Nagel believes that the legal framework is under collective control and subject to social justice, that the state makes demands on the citizens or the citizens make demands on each other via its mechanisms – he does not consider that the capitalist class makes demands of the citizens, using its state mechanisms, with the assistance of its ideology.28

Pogge well exemplifies key problems of cosmopolitan philosophy. At the beginning of World Poverty and Human Rights he dismissed Marx’s account of the ‘causal factors that influence how our social world and moral values interact with each other (as) rather too neat.’29 He further exemplified his hostility to economic analysis and to mouthpieces who pose as disinterested in ‘Real World Justice’.30

Yet Pogge himself fails to understand capitalism and how it functions. He writes that ‘the rules governing economic transactions…are the most important causal determinants of the incidence and depth of severe poverty and of the human rights deficit more generally.’31 and ‘the rules structuring the world economy have a profound impact on the global economic distribution’.32

What is the most important causal determinant of global poverty, the human rights deficit not to mention global economic distribution is the dynamic of capitalism – unwilled, beneath rules and without conscious intention. No amount of rules on behalf of the capitalist class can ultimately deny that dynamic – as World War I, World War II, the Great Depression and the current Global Financial Crisis have shown.

Part three/to be continued…


23. Brian Milstein, “Kantian Cosmopolitanism beyond ‘Perpetual Peace’: Commercium, Critique, and the Cosmopolitan Problematic”, European Journal of Philosophy, pp. 1-20, pp. 2-3. (forthcoming); published online 11.11.10

24. BenHabib, Another Cosmopolitanism, op. cit., 57

25. Ibid., 68, 69

26. Rawls’ is on ‘peoples’

27. Michael J. Sandel, ‘Morality and the Liberal Ideal’, in Michael Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2005, pp. 147-55, 153

28. ‘the broader legal framework…is subject to collective authority and justification and therefore to principles of social justice…In short, the state makes unique demands on the will of its members – or the members make unique demands on one another through the institutions of the state’, Thomas Nagel, ‘The Problem of Global Justice’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Spring, 2005), pp. 113-147, 130

29. Thomas W. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2008, 4

30. ‘While economists like to present themselves as disinterested scientists, they function today more typically as ideologists for our political and economic ‘‘elites’’ – much like most theologians did in an earlier age.’ Thomas W. Pogge, ‘Real World Justice’, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9 No. 1-2, 2005, pp. 29-53, 30

31. Thomas W. Pogge, ‘Recognised and Violated by International Law: The Human Rights of the Global Poor’, Leiden Journal of International Law, 18, 2005, pp. 717-745, 742

32. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, op. cit., 122