The writer Andre Vltchek has observed the tendency in the Western media to portray China as "capitalist," and concluded this about their motivations:
Why really lie about China 'not being socialist'? The answer is simple: it is because most people associate words like 'socialism' and 'Communism' with hope. Yes, they do! At least subconsciously. Even after decades of brainwashing and smear campaigns! "Socialist China" means "China which brings optimism to its own people and humanity." On the other hand, people on all continents associate 'capitalism' with something depressing, stale, and regressive. Therefore, call China 'capitalist', and it evokes feelings of gloominess and slump.
The connection of these misleading characterizations about China's economic system to the current U.S. anti-Chinese cold war effort is therefore clear. If the Western propaganda machine can convince those dissatisfied with the current economic system that China represents a mirror image of the society we live in, they'll be more inclined to believe false claims like "China is stifling democracy in Hong Kong" or "China has created an Orwellian social credit system." This is how Sinophobia has become normalized on both the right and on the mainstream left.
The idea that China isn't socialist, or that the Communist Party of China "betrayed" socialism after the Mao era, serves another purpose besides merely serving hybrid warfare propaganda: to make the left and the communist movement feel hopeless. If history's largest attempt at building a Marxist society has turned into just another corporate oligarchy, the Marxist-Leninist principles that the People's Republic of China are founded on can't be trusted. So long as one wants to remain an anti-capitalist, there's therefore no choice but to reject Marxism-Leninism in favor of anarchism, social democracy, Trotskyism, or whatever other left-leaning ideology that doesn't align with the PRC.
The narratives about how the DPRK is an oppressive "monarchy," or how Vietnam is "state capitalist," serve the same purpose: to make people who are interested in socialism seek to distance themselves from socialist projects out of the belief that these projects are fraudulently socialist. What can help one see the flaw in this line of thinking is to realize that it relies on oversimplifications of how these socialist states function, and of why these states exist in their current forms.
Since China, the DPRK, and Vietnam are all Asian countries, Orientalism undoubtedly plays a role in this impulse to judge and oversimplify. The claim that Kim Jong Un is an all-powerful ruler who gained his position through inheritance comes from racist attitudes about Asian societies being backwards. The characterizations of the Communist Party of Vietnam as "state capitalist," which ignore the more complex realities of how the party has navigated a capitalist-dominated global economy, also perpetuate the perception that the Asians have done socialism wrong. Both the charges of tyranny and of capitalist regression are used to attack China.
And given the prevalence of Orientalism within the U.S. and its loyalist countries, this tactic of vilifying China as a "totalitarian" country where socialism has "failed" is widely effective. Yet it relies on a perception of the country that's detached from the material realities, and that can therefore easily crumble if challenged by a materialist analysis.
One of the ways to counter the idea that the Communist Party of China has abandoned Marxism in favor of corporate despotism is to point out the historical factors behind why China's economy exists in its current form. Like how the DPRK's detractors vilify the country for developing nuclear weapons even though this has been the country's only way to prevent an imperialist invasion, idealistic Western leftists vilify the CPC for opening up China's economy to business even though this has been the country's only route for lifting itself out of poverty.
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