Russia and China: Neither Capitalist nor Great Powers? (Part 3)


The Role of Migration



Let us now deal with the last argument of PO/CRFI why Russia and China supposedly are not imperialist powers. The author claims that China is no imperialist country because there is no migration to China where such migrant workers would be super-exploited as cheap labor.


Additionally, it is impossible for China to rise up to the league of imperialist countries as long as it does not seek cheap labor beyond its borders, but continues to offer wages among the lowest in the world and remains a country into which capital flows and out of which its own population moves. In connection with this, we must mention that Lenin also added the phenomenon of migration to the indicators of imperialism: “One of the special features of imperialism connected with the facts I am describing, is the decline in emigration from imperialist countries and the increase in immigration into these countries from the more backward countries where lower wages are paid.” In today’s world if there is no such thing as American, German, Danish, Dutch, Canadian, British or French migrant workers, the reason is that these countries are imperialist powers. And the converse relation must also be taken to be true.


The first sentence is simply nonsense as we have shown. Yes, capital flows into China (as it is also flowing into many North American and European imperialist countries). But a lot of capital also flows out of China as foreign investment of Chinese corporations. This is why they are among the leading foreign investors in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Contrary to the PO/CRFI myth, these corporations are exploiting the local, cheap labor forces. The author seems to suggest that there is a significant emigration of Chinese people from China to other countries. This is simple nonsense. There is no significant migration from China to other countries.


The only thing which is true is that there is indeed little migration to China. But before dealing with this issue, we want to draw attention to the fact that the author furtively left out the case of Russia. This is most likely the case because PO/CRFI denies the imperialist character of Russia. Nevertheless, as we have shown in past studies, Russian imperialism enormously gains from super-exploitation of migrants. According to official statistics approximately 12.3 million legal migrants currently reside inside Russia. In addition, another 5-8 million migrants have illegally entered the country in order to work there. Estimates of the percent of foreign migrants among all employed in Russia is about 8-10 %, which is close to levels in various European countries. However, this appears to be an underestimation. Most of these migrants come from Central Asia and Caucasus. In addition, this figure does not include the migrants from oppressed nations within Russia. [1]


In general, the author is right to say that migration plays an important role in imperialist countries. In fact, this is a central feature of imperialism particularly in the current historic period of its decay. [2] However, it is useful to bear in mind that there are exceptions and not every imperialist country experiences strong migration. This is, for example, the case with Japan, one of the strongest imperialist powers in the world. Japan has only a small share of migrants among its population (1.7% in 2007). [3]


The case of China has its peculiarities as we have pointed in past studies. The Stalinist-capitalist ruling class utilizes effectively the sheer size of the country’s population – China’s 1.4 billion people are the equivalent to 18.5% of the total world population! Furthermore, it utilizes the old household registration system which was set up by the Stalinist bureaucracy in 1958. According to this system (called hukou in China) “residents were not allowed to work or live outside the administrative boundaries of their household registration without approval of the authorities. Once they left their place of registration, they would also leave behind all of their rights and benefits.[4]


Given rural poverty and opportunities for jobs in the cities, millions and millions of rural, mostly young, peasants moved to the cities to find employment. These former peasants or peasant youth who moved to the cities are called migrants in China. This category is misleading since it is usually used for people who move to another country. In fact they are rural-to-urban migrant workers. However it is no accident that these people are called migrants, because there is an important similarity between them and those who internationally are called migrants: they move to areas where they live often illegal and without rights and claim to social security.


Living in very poor conditions, these migrants soon became a major driving force for the capitalist process of super-exploitation. The number of migrant workers in China rose from about 30 million (1989), to 62 million (1993), 131.8 million (2006) and by the end of 2010, their number rose to an estimated 242 million. In the capital city, Beijing, about 40% of the total population are migrant workers, while in Shenzhen nearly 12 million of the total 14 million population are migrants. These migrant workers are usually pushed into hard-labor, low-wage jobs. According to the China Labour Bulletin migrants make up 58% of all workers in the industry and 52% in the service sector. The proportion of migrant workers in manufacturing industries and in construction reached as high as 68% and 80% respectively. [5]


In short, Chinese imperialism does not need to important migrants because it already can super-exploit vast human resources of cheap labor. In fact, this system of super-exploiting internal migrants is one of the sources for the rapid process of capital accumulation which resulted in the rise of Chinese capitalism. The PO/CRFI comrades are therefore completely wrong to conclude form China’s lack of migration that this would reflect China’s non-imperialism.



Anti-Imperialism or Pro-Eastern Social-Imperialism?



Lenin liked to say: „Our doctrine is not a dogma, but a guide to action.[6] A correct theory guides a party to a correct practice. In reverse, we can say that a revisionist theory guides a party to a revisionist practice.


Unfortunately, this is the case with the PO/CRFI. From their analysis – that Russia and China are not imperialist power – they draw the strategic conclusion to support these Eastern powers against their Western rivals.


What determines the character of war in the 21st century is the encirclement of Russia and China by US imperialism, in alliance with its subordinate allies of European and Japanese imperialism, in order to integrate the former countries into the imperialist world system in unrestrained fashion by bringing the process of capitalist restoration in these countries to its completion. (…) The interest of the world proletariat lies in the defeat of imperialism. The military power of Russia and China reduces the possibility of an imperialist invasion to almost impossible. However, prior to a military attack, these countries are faced with the risk of an economic and political collapse, resulting from the destruction of all the achievements of the proletarian revolution and the sharp mobilization of all the capitalist crisis dynamics into those countries. That is to say that, even though those powers may resist imperialism, they cannot defeat it. On the other hand, the defeat of Russia and China at the hands of imperialism would give rise to retrogressive results worldwide. Thus, no impartiality is possible between imperialism and these countries. On the contrary, each blow received by imperialism would pave the way for revolutionary dynamics.


The same position is expressed in a statement adopted at a congress of the CRFI in April 2018. In it they proclaim that Russia and China have not become imperialist and can not become such. They state that these countries only have the alternative to either become colonies of Western imperialism or socialist states. From this, the PO/CRFI comrades draw the inevitable conclusion that they are siding with Russia and China against the U.S., EU and Japan.


An imperialist capital has not been created in Russia or China, and the likelihood of an exclusively state-based imperialism is a flimsy hypothesis. These regimes of transition to capitalism face, on the one hand, imperialist colonization (and wars) and, on the other, proletarian revolution. Given a hypothesis of imperialist war against Russia and / or China, to carry out a capitalist restoration of a colonial nature, revolutionary socialists will fight for the complete defeat of imperialism and will take advantage of this struggle to promote the resurgence of the soviets, as the independent political power of the working class; to expropriate the oligarchy and the bureaucracy and develop a socialist revolution, defending the free self-determination of the peoples, in the perspective of the reconstruction of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [inspired] in the revolutionary and internationalist origin of the October revolution.[7]


This closes the circle. From denial of the imperialist class character of China and Russia, the PO/CRFI and their Russian Stalinist allies in the United Communist Party end up in siding with these Great Powers against their Western rivals. And all this in the name of “Marxism” and “Anti-Imperialism”!


Nevertheless, one has to thank the PO/CRFI comrades for one thing: as we have shown in other works, many self-proclaimed “Trotskyist” organizations share the thesis that Russia and China are not imperialist states. [8] However, only few are prepared to articulate so consistently and explicitly the devastating consequences of this position in calling to support China and Russia against their Western rivals.


We conclude in reiterating our position which we have outlined in our recently published programmatic document “Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States”:         In cases of conflicts between imperialist states, the RCIT calls workers and popular organizations around the world to act decisively on the basis of the principles of international working class solidarity. This means that they must not support either camp. They must refuse to side with their own ruling class as well as with that of the opposing imperialist camp: Down with all imperialist Great Powers – whether the US, EU, Japan, China or Russia!


Refusal to recognize the Great Power rivalry as a key feature of the present period and, related to this, refusal to recognize the imperialist character of China and Russia” inevitable results in “supporting Russian and Chinese imperialism.[9]


Authentic Marxists draw a dividing line between consistent anti-imperialism and pro-Eastern social-imperialism. The former opposes all Great Powers and supports the liberation struggle of oppressed people against them. The latter sides with China and Russia against their Western rivals and refuses to support those liberation struggles of oppressed people which are directed against the Putin and Xi regimes resp. their local allies (e.g. Assad).


Obviously revolutionary Marxists are sharply opposed to such revisionist whitewashing of Chinese and Russian imperialism.


[1] For more information on migration in Russia see Michael Pröbsting: Russia as a Great Imperialist Power (Chapter “Migration and Super-Exploitation”)

[2] For the RCIT’s analysis of migration see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Patriotic "Anti-Capitalism" for Fools. Yet Again on the CWG/LCC's Support for "Workers’" Immigration Control and Protectionism in the US, 30.5.2017,; Michael Pröbsting and Andrew Walton: The Slogan of "Workers’" Immigration Control: A Concession to Social-Chauvinism, 27.3.2017,; Michael Pröbsting and Andrew Walton: A Social-Chauvinist Defence of the Indefensible. Another Reply to the CWG/LCC's Support for "Workers’" Immigration Control, 14.5.2017, RCIT: Marxism, Migration and Revolutionary Integration,; Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South, chapter 8.iv) and 14ii),; Michael Pröbsting: The British Left and the EU-Referendum: The Many Faces of pro-UK or pro-EU Social-Imperialism, August 2015, Chapter II.2,, RCIT-Program, chapter V:, RCIT-Manifesto chapter IV:; and various actual statements and articles here: See also Michael Pröbsting: Migration and Super-exploitation: Marxist Theory and the Role of Migration in the present Period of Capitalist Decay, in: Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory (Volume 43, Issue 3-4, 2015), pp. 329-346. We have also published a detailed study on migration and the Marxist program in German language. See Michael Pröbsting: Marxismus, Migration und revolutionäre Integration (2010); in: Der Weg des Revolutionären Kommunismus, Nr. 7, pp. 38-41,

[3] Gabriele Vogt: Bevölkerungsentwicklung in Japan: Fokus Migration, Berlin-Instituts für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung, 2008, p. 3

[4] China Labour Bulletin: Migrant workers in China, 6 June, 2008,

[5] China Labour Bulletin: Migrant workers in China, 6 June, 2008,

[6] V.I. Lenin: Certain Features of the Historical Development of Marxism (1910); in: CW 17, p. 39

[7] Partido Obrero, PT (Uruguay), DIP (Turkey), EEK (Greece): Declaration of the International Conference, 13 de abril de 2018

[8] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Syria and Great Power Rivalry: The Failure of the „Left“. The bleeding Syrian Revolution and the recent Escalation of Inter-Imperialist Rivalry between the US and Russia – A Marxist Critique of Social Democracy, Stalinism and Centrism, 21 April 2018,

[9] RCIT: Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States, 8 September 2018,