Origins of peasant socialism in China: the international relations of China’s modern revolution

Liu, Xin (2014) Origins of peasant socialism in China: the international relations of China’s modern revolution. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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More than six decades after its occurrence, China’s ‘peasant revolution’ of 1949 remains an enigma. According to classical Marxism, peasants are passive ‘objects of history’ who must be transformed into industrial workers before they can become agents of revolutionary change. This line of argument is reinforced by much extant Sinology and historical sociology, both of which have treated Maoism either as a disguised continuation of peasant exploitation, or as a failed emulation of Stalinism. Contra these interpretations, this thesis argues that China’s peasant revolution was a real historical phenomenon which involved a previously unthinkable form of peasant political agency. To substantiate this argument, the thesis deploys Leon Trotsky's theory of Uneven and Combined Development (U&CD) which posits social development as a non-linear process constituted via multi-societal interaction. This reveals that the origins and specificities of the Chinese Revolution can best be understood with reference to a 'combined development' emerging from China's long-run and short-run interactions with variegated social forms.

The first chapter of the thesis shows how China’s ‘peasant revolution’ remains an insurmountable paradox for the relevant literature, expressed in a shared problem of
anachronism. Chapter 2 introduces Uneven and Combined Development as a theory of inter-societal causation that might overcome the problem by virtue of its non-linear
conception of social development. Chapter 3 demonstrates how this inter-societal perspective is central to understanding the longue dureé ‘peculiarities’ of China’s development: the interaction of nomadic and sedentary societies made the Chinese peasants directly subject to a centralizing empire, configuring their political agency quite differently (and with quite different potentials) from that of their European feudal counterparts. Chapter 4 analyzes the specific intersection of the Chinese social formation with the universalizing dynamics of Western capitalism, an intersection which generated the context of China’s modern combined development. Chapter 5 then provides a conjunctural analysis of how the revolutionary agency of the peasant came to the fore in China’s revolution in terms of a pattern of combined development that substituted the peasantry for the weak bourgeoisie and nascent proletariat as the leading agency of a socialist modernization that fused anti-imperialist struggle and campaigns for rural restoration and national liberation into a single process aimed at overcoming China’s backwardness. Finally, Chapter 6 shows how this argument resolves the Sinological debate on whether modern Chinese history is ‘China-made’ or ‘West-made’; for it reveals how the interaction of China’s premodern social forms with Western modernity co-determined the peculiarites of China’s modern transformation. It also provides a critique of extant Marxist historical sociology, arguing that it is built upon a mode-of-production analysis that tends towards falsely unilinear, ‘internalist’ explanations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS History of Asia > DS701 China
H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 29 May 2014 11:56
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2015 13:37

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