A specter, one might say, is haunting China.
In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels famously use a spectral meta-
phor to describe the challenge that Eu rope’s mid- nineteenth-century subter-
ranean communist forces posed for the cap i talist establishment. Faced with
an economic order that was increasingly predicated on the extraction of sur-
plus value from the labor of the proletariat, Marx and Engels called upon their
communist brethren to “meet this nursery tale of the specter of communism
with a manifesto of the party itself” (Marx and Engels 1998). Here, the “spec-
ter of communism” carries a retrospective as well as an anticipatory valence,
connoting the past and current suppression of communism and the emanci-
patory promise that communism holds for the future.
Postsocialist China, meanwhile, may be seen as a mirror image of this vi-
sion of mid- nineteenth-century Eu ropean communism. While The Commu-
nist Manifesto describes how communism arose in response to the exploit-
ative tendencies of industrial capitalism, in con temporary China it is instead
capitalism that is being offered as an antidote to the socioeconomic weak-
nesses resulting from a quarter century of communist rule. After a Maoist po-
liti cal economic system predicated on egalitarianism yielded widespread pov-
erty punctuated by periods of extreme famine, Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng
Xiaoping, instead took aggressive mea sures to encourage rapid economic
growth and privatization. Capitalism, in Deng’s view, offered con temporary
“Specters of Marx, Shades of Mao,
and the Ghosts of Global Capital”
Carlos Rojas
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