Critical Reflections on Capitalist China: a talk by Richard Gilman-Opalsky

Speaker: Richard Gilman-Opalsky

Saturday, July 27, 2019, 7:00 PM

Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan, Studio 632B (Chicago)

The capitalist reality of the so-called “communist” regimes of the twentieth century has been exposed. An international diversity of theory and history going back a hundred years tells us that communism was to be found in movements from below, in uprisings against the established world powers. Communism was not to be found in the regimes that claimed its name. In 1957, Raya Dunayevskaya wrote that the “Chinese Communist regime is a state-capitalist society.” Mao himself had already conceded that “the present-day capitalist economy in China” is a “state-capitalist economy” that “takes on a socialist character” (1953). 

In the twentieth century, many capitalist governments wore a mask of socialism or communism; it was a mask that their enemies were happy to see. But was this mask just a prop in the Cold War? Today, we witness how effectively capitalism can still masquerade as socialism, not only in China, but in the United States and elsewhere. While capitalism with a socialist character is not a meaningless concept, the fact is that no form of capitalism is acceptable or ultimately even survivable. We have to reclaim an understanding of the irreconcilable and abolitionist relation of Marx’s philosophy to any form of capitalism, which can perhaps best be seen in the case of China. Do we really live in a world where the Chinese Communist Party is one of the most powerful capitalist organizations on Earth? What do socialism, Marxism, and communism mean in Chinese culture and politics today, where they are variously held onto and reproduced? 

Richard Gilman-Opalsky shares reflections from his 2018 China Lectures at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an. There, Gilman-Opalsky lectured on nationalism, capitalism, revolution, feminism, racism, work, global revolt, and Marxism. In the spirit of Audre Lorde’s 1976 “Notes from a Trip to Russia,” he presents a critical appreciation of Chinese culture and politics for a general audience interested in capitalist crisis and revolution. 

Speaker bio:

Richard Gilman-Opalsky is Professor of political theory and philosophy at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Dr. Gilman-Opalsky’s teaching and research focus on the history of political philosophy, Continental and contemporary social theory, Marxism, capitalism, autonomist politics, postmodern philosophy, critical theory, social movements and the public sphere. Gilman-Opalsky is the author of four books: Specters of Revolt (2016), Precarious Communism (2014), Spectacular Capitalism (2011), and Unbounded Publics (2008). He is also co-editor of Against Capital in the Twenty-First Century: A Reader of Radical Undercurrents (2018). His forthcoming books, Riotous Epistemology and The Communism of Love, will both be published in 2020. Gilman-Opalsky has lectured widely on his research throughout the U.S. and Europe, as well as in China. His Ph.D. is from The New School for Social Research (2006) and he was recently named University Scholar 2018-2019 at the University of Illinois.

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