Image of Photograph of Dr David Lane

Whither Socialism with Chinese Characteristics?

The China Centre lecture on Thursday 13 May 2021 was given by Dr David Lane, Emeritus Reader in Sociology and Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge; and former Professor of Sociology, University of Birmingham.

Dr Lane’s lecture contrasted the great difference in the economic performance and social outcomes under system reform in China and the USSR.

He began by analysing the Soviet system transformation in the early 1990s, with deep economic and social problems emerging after the CPSU collapsed and the economy experienced a ‘big bang’ of privatisation and price liberalisation. The old symbols of Soviet communism disappeared overnight and the society entered a period of profound disorientation.

Dr Lane examined the way in which under the policy of ‘reform and opening-up’ China’s integration into the world economy deepened and the role of the private sector expanded dramatically. He pointed out that despite large-scale privatisation economic planning remains crucial to the country’s economic trajectory. He used the metaphor of the ‘bird in the cage’ to examine the continuing central role of the Chinese state in economic regulation. The whole process of system reform has taken place under the continued leadership by the CPC. Dr Lane pointed out that alongside a large rise in income inequality key indicators of popular welfare made great progress during the past 40 years. He concluded that the Chinese interpretation of socialism is no longer based on state ownership, but instead is characterised by the pursuit of ‘prosperity for all’ and ‘meeting human needs’.

The Q&A session raised the issues of the nature of the New World Order; the reasons for the development of a New Cold War; the role of intellectuals in the collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe and the USSR; and the likelihood of de-coupling between China and the West.

Dr David Lane was educated at Birmingham and Oxford Universities. Currently, he is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, an Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, and a visiting professor at Peking University. He has written extensively on the USSR and post-socialism, Marxism and socialism, industrial societies and the world economy, elites and classes. Recent publications include: Changing Regional Alliances for China and the West (With G. Zhu) (2018); The Eurasian Project in Global Perspective (2016); (with V. Samokhvalov) The Eurasian Project and Europe (2015); Elites and Identity in the Transformation of State Socialism (2014); The Capitalist Transformation of State Socialism (2014). Recent articles have been published in Critical Sociology, The Third World Quarterly, International Critical Thought and Mir Rossii.