Is China still socialist?
: A Marxist critique of János Kornai’s analysis of China

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis investigates if China’s system conforms to János Kornai’s theory of
reform socialism. To facilitate this study Kornai’s theory of socialism is outlined
in depth and its basic features are compared with evidence drawn from a broad
range of multidisciplinary research on contemporary China. I find that the three
necessary and sufficient features of socialism that Kornai identifies are all
present. I also reveal other similarities between reform socialism and China’s
contemporary system.

The idea that China is best understood as a variety of capitalism is considered,
and I reflect on the dynamics of the state and private sector in modern China.
After 1978 an important inspiration for China’s economic reforms was the
Soviet New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced under Lenin in 1921. The Soviet
economist Evgeny Preobrazensky studied the forces shaping policy during the
NEP and elaborated a Marxist method to reveal how the contradictions
between socialist and capitalist tendencies vie for dominance over the
economy. He views this economic conflict as a type of class struggle, which
takes the form of ‘primitive socialist accumulation’ (PSA). The planned
development of the economy accumulates from the private sector, and
increases the importance of the working class in the economy.

The state sector exercises its dominance by exploiting its semi-monopolistic
power and undertakes projects of vast scale and ambition. The workforce finds
it is able to exert considerable pressure on the ruling Party and bureaucracy.
This indicates that the relationship between the working class and the Party
and state remains central to the power relations governing Chinese society
Date of Award22 Jun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlex Callinicos (Supervisor)

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