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January 10, 2010

Socialists and China: An Exchange

A LeftViews Exchange
John Riddell’s Socialist Voice article on China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ has prompted a discussion on how socialists should view and respond to China. The following are comments by Walter Lippmann, who maintains the CubaNews mailing list, and Herman Rosenfeld of Socialist Project, with responses by John Riddell.

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Original article and comments:
50 Years After: The Tragedy of China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’
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Walter Lippmann: A comment on “50 Years After”

All this doom-and-gloom commentary doesn’t help to explain how China, despite all of the terrible things John Riddell says the Chinese leadership has been and continues to do, has become the world economic powerhouse that it has.

Guided by the conception that China’s leadership has deliberately done the wrong thing, at least according to the Canadian John Riddell, it would be hard to explain the progress mixed with the problems which has taken place in the People’s Republic. As a minimum, China’s “failure”, as perceived by John Riddell in 2009, can be explained simply by the PRC’s failure to do what John Riddell thinks they should have done instead of what they did do, long decades after the Chinese fact.

China today is one of the world’s workshops. It’s been so successful that the United States of America is in deep economic debt to China, which is holding large amounts of US-government financial obligations. This may be one of the reasons why Washington no longer tries to blockade China as it did for the first quarter century after the triumph of the Chinese Revolution in 1949.

Though some foreign investors have made lots of money from their Chinese investments, and social differentiation in the People’s Republic is substantial, it is ALSO true the China is an international economic giant. These facts are at odds with one another from a socialist perspective, but are they entirely contradictory? Isn’t it possible that both are true at the same time? It’s obvious that it is.

Just why some Canadian radicals, like some in the United States and Australia as well, seem so bound and determined to revile China, rather then focusing primarily on how to understand what has happened and why, is certainly beyond my understanding.

Instead of trying to force the Chinese square peg into the round hole of the experience in the early years of the Soviet Union, it would seem better to try to look at China through the prism of its own history, culture, traditions and experiences. The idea of historical models, against which each socialist experience is to be judged – and usually found wanting – should be jettisoned, in my opinion.

Fidel Castro has a completely different view of developments in China. A selection of his commentaries on China over the past ten years can be found here: Fidel Castro on the Chinese Revolution

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John Riddell: Reply to Walter Lippmann

Walter Lippmann is right to stress the remarkable successes of China’s development into “an international economic giant.” He also provides a link to useful statements by Fidel Castro on the Chinese revolution.

But what is his quarrel with my article, “50 Years After: The Tragedy of China’s Great Leap Forward”? Walter’s comment makes no reference to my topic and no specific reference to the article. Yet he dismisses the article as “gloom and doom commentary.”

Did he read the article’s opening paragraphs? They state:

“On October 1, the People’s Republic of China will mark the 60th anniversary of its foundation. This will be an occasion to celebrate one of the most influential victories of popular struggle in our era.

“This great uprising forged a united and independent Chinese state, freed the country from foreign domination and capitalist rule, ended landlordism, provided broad access to education and health care, and set in motion popular energies that modernized and industrialized its economy. The revolutionary triumph of 1949 laid the foundation for China’s present dynamism and influence, as well as providing an enormous impetus to anti-colonial revolution worldwide.”

Does Walter disagree with this assessment?

Walter refers us to Fidel Castro’s comments on China. But nowhere does Fidel take up the ‘Great Leap’ experience. This is in fact unnecessary: one need only compare the heavy-handed methods of ‘Great Leap’, and its disastrous results, with the care and wisdom of Cuban policy toward farmers over fifty years of revolutionary history.

Walter seems to wonder why a socialist today – a ‘Canadian’, no less – would wish to analyze events that took place so far away and so long ago.

This question is answered in the sentence of my article immediately following the quote given above. It asks why “the socialist movement and ideology that headed the revolution, identified with Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, disappeared from China soon after his death in 1976.”

The revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party began with sweeping authority and prestige in all sectors of society – more extensive than in any other anti-capitalist revolution of its century. Today the Communist Party still rules, and the flame of anti-imperialism is strong in the consciousness of Chinese working people. But there is no socialist movement in China. No sector of the world’s oppressed and exploited look to today’s China for political guidance and inspiration. Despite its immense wealth and prestige, China does not carry out international solidarity work on the scale even of small, poor, and embattled Cuba.

My article aimed to take a small step toward an explanation, by describing the circumstances in which the close alliance of the Chinese Communist Party with the peasantry was shattered.

This is an issue worth debating.

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Herman Rosenfeld: Email to John Riddell

Your response is quite correct and quite measured, but it doesn’t openly articulate (although it alludes to) a critical point that folks like Lippmann conveniently leave out: China no longer attempts to build a society based on the solidaristic principles and collective capacities of working people – in other words, socialism. It looks to build a modern economic defined and motivated by the private accumulation of capital in all of its most fetishistic elements.

Just because it is ruled by a single-party dictatorship that relies on its revolutionary roots and the vestiges of an earlier socialist tradition doesn’t make it socialist. There are reasons that working people around the world don’t look to China as a model of a different society (but possibly as a model of raw development, where a strong state can help shape that development).

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John Riddell: Email to Herman Rosenfeld

You put it very well. You capture the essence of the problem in China.

But I think there is more to it than that:

  • The rise of Chinese capitalism builds on the victory of the Chinese revolution against feudalism and imperialist domination. Chinese economic vigour testifies that this revolution is still strong. There is plenty of evidence that it lives in the consciousness of the Chinese people.
  • China also benefits from the strength of the state as an economic player, especially with respect to the banks. This has been shown in China’s ability to sail through two major capitalist financial collapses, one regional (a decade ago) and the other worldwide. I hesitate to ascribe socialist significance to the state sector; it seems more to be state capitalist. But let’s recall what Lenin said about the progressive significance of state capitalism, under certain circumstances. The circumstance in China is that the strong state sector and state economic dirigism greatly strengthen China’s defenses against its imperialist rivals.
  • China is often called imperialist, but I don’t see the evidence. Certainly Chinese international economic policy is motivated mainly by desire for gain and only very rarely by considerations of solidarity. But the Chinese state does not appear to need at present to conquer spheres of influence and assert its economic and political domination over client states and semi-colonies. China has been helpful to countries like Cuba under U.S. attack. China leans toward defending the sovereignty of poor countries, much to the annoyance of the U.S.
  • My feeling is that the need to defend China against imperialist incursions is still posed, and needs to be taken into account in approaching questions like Tibetan self-determination.

LeftViews is Socialist Voice’s forum for articles related to rebuilding the left in Canada and around the world, reflecting a wide variety of socialist opinion.

18 Comments »

18 Responses to “Socialists and China: An Exchange”

  1. Dimitris Fasfalis on 11 Jan 2010 at 8:50 am #

    In response to Rosenfeld’s email reply, John Riddell writes:

    “China is often called imperialist, but I don’t see the evidence. Certainly Chinese international economic policy is motivated mainly by desire for gain and only very rarely by considerations of solidarity. But the Chinese state does not appear to need at present to conquer spheres of influence and assert its economic and political domination over client states and semi-colonies.”

    The evidence, however, of Chinese imperialistic policies exists: Chinese foreign direct investments in African countries such as Angola, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroun and Nigeria are designed to secure, thus to control, energy and mineral supplies. These economic relations are not market “equal-to-equal” relations (in the sense described by Marx in Capital) but have more to do with clientelism and control by the stronger of both parties, i.e. China. The other side (the dependent states) are most often by a low development rate and a comprador bourgeoisie using the state as a source of revenues and social/international consideration.

    It is nonetheless true that for many countries relations with China have been welcomed since they respect national sovereignty and provide an alternative to Western imperialism and its IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs.

    This does not however contradict the imperialistic character of China’s foreign policy in economicaly dependent countries, since China’s capital exports are often used as an instrument of power and domination, and not as any other way of “doing business”. It seems to me that this is the heart of Lenin’s theory of imperialism and it applies to China today even though it has been itself a dependent and imperialist-dominated country in the past.

    Socialists do not have to compromise themselves with the Chinese bureaucrats and capitalists: their duty is to express solidarity with those who fight for democratic rights and against the exploitation of man by man, whoever they are, monks included.

  2. Anthony Brain on 12 Jan 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    Walter Lippmen correctly attacks the un-dialectical method of John Riddell in being too negative towards China due to falsely concluding Capitalism has been restored. He points to China’s massive economic development which even Bourgeois economists have argued is unique in history. Riddell’s major methodlogical error is believing Capitalism can develop third world countries on the scale of China. This is a logical step from when you went along with Jack Barnes’s break from Permanent Revolution during the early 1980s. After the Bourgeois elements were defeated in the 15th centuy , Feudalism was consolidated within China. During that period there was a possibility of a major Capitalist development with China possessing the world’s biggest navy and their extensive trade with Africa. A major Capitalist development became impossible due to the Chinese Bourgeoisie being weakened by a dominant Aristocracy. Once Capitalism had domianance over the world during the 19th Century Capitalism imposed their subordination of China to the needs of their markets.

    From the Boxer rebellion of 1900 to the Chinese revolution of 1949 there were anti-Imperialist rebellions. A Chinese Trotskyist by the name of Peng Shu-Tse analysed that Amerian Imperialism for a whole variety of factors was unable to put down the Socialist Revolution in 1950. As Trotsky said of Russia the attempted Bourgeois revolution in China during the 15th century fail due to their weakeness, once Imperialism dominated China it was only through carrying out a Socialist revolution could the productive forces go forward. Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution which China vindicates is that you have combine the Bourgeois-Democratic tasks of national liberation against Imperialism combined with the Socialist tasks of overthrowing Capitalism.

    The model for Trotskyists in analysing China is Trotsky’s “Revolution Betrayed”. Trotskyists should point out how China proves that a workers’ State can massively develop the productive forces than Capitalism; can innovate with new technologies; and lift millions of millions out of poverty. This is what Trotsky said about the Soviet Union in the “Revolution Betrayed”. China has lifted 300 million out of poverty! One significant change which makes China different from Russia is that due to Capitalism’s weakness China has become part of the international division of labour. China at the same time maintains a monopoly of foreign trade. This contradiction of China threatening Capitalism’s markets and maintaining the workers’ state through that monoploy of foriegn trade could escalate the trade tensions with Imperialism. The restoration of Capitalism would destroy the productive forces accumulated since 1950 and the social gains which workers have accomplished. By doing this work Trotskyists can popularise our program by showing that even through the distortion of Stalinism of what a workers’ state can accomplish by carrying out Permanent Revolution.

    Riddell has to admit in his reply to Lippman that rapid economic development is occuring within China. Riddel is correct that state intervention in China has prevented a depression in their economy. How is this possible under Capitalism? when Trotsky argued that state intervention is to bail out a decaying economic system. Trotsky pointed out however a Workers’ state however degenerated has a different dynamic to Capitalism because the socialisation of productive forces liberated by a Socialist revolution. When Riddell attacks the concepts of state ownership being Socialist just by those measures alone and then goes on to label it “State Capitalist” breaks from a Marxist understanding of the different economic laws of Capitalism and workers’ states. Even before the rise of Stalinism, Marx and Engels, and in documents of the first 4 world congress of the Comintern the socialisation of production through Socialist revolutions was one indication for the existence of workers’ states.

    One major mistake Riddell makes is not realising that the restoration of Capitalism requires the destruction of the bulk of state-owned industries. At the end of his reply Riddell correctly concludes that China is not Imperialist but then poses a question mark in defending it from Imperialism. It is peculair that Riddell will not defend a workers’ state but will support correctly semi-Colonies in any wars against Imperialism. Trotskyists oppose Stalinist oppression of nationalities such as Tibet but defend the Chinese workers’ state against Imperialism. Riddell was correct to break from Barnes’ abandonment of the Colonial revolution but to his right on the workers’ states. It is important for Trotskyists to challenge Liberal Human rights justifications for Imperialist intervention in workers’ states and semi-Colonies.

    Lippman’s reply to Riddell is 90% correct but where does he stand on Permanent Revolution? One disagreement I have with him is his rejection of historical models. Trotskyists contiuing with Lenin have to make assessements incorporated into programme of what worked and failed. This is so the working class do not make the same disatrous mistakes.
    Posted by Brain on Trotskyist theory at 14:07

  3. Walter Lippmann on 12 Jan 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    My position on Permanent Revolution is simple and has been frequently stated, and I’m happy to re-state it again at Anthony Brain’s request.

    As DESCRIPTION of the revolutionary process, nationally and internationally, the theory is very good. Trotsky’s writings using the concept remain useful as reference points and to give us tools to analyze political events.

    As PRESCRIPTION for the revolutionary process, Permanent Revolution has proven a poor guide. One could cite numerous examples, but the one which I’ve frequently cited is the US Socialist Workers Party’s response to the Cuban Revolution, which was suspicious and hostile from the very beginning. In a principal editorial OVER A YEAR after the triumph, THE MILITANT wrote that the MAIN DANGER to the Cuban Revolution was in its own leadership. THE MILTANT derided that leadership as petty bourgeois, which in Trotskyist circles is used as an epithet (“bad person, unstable, won’t accept majority rule”, rather than as a sociological description.

    Read that editorial here:
    CUBA AT THE CROSSROADS – EDITORIAL
    http://www.walterlippmann.com/catc.html

    Mechanically applying their understandings of Permanent Revolution, Trotskyist groups generally oppose Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and the rest of the revolutionary leaderships which have had the misfortune – the critics seem to be saying – of coming to power via parliamentary elections. This is counterposed to the “approved” method, preferred by those of Trotskyist bent or heritage, in an armed revolutionary struggle.

    The Trotskyists generally – and I find it much more useful to use the term “perfectionist” than Trotskyist since the Trotskyists are but one sub-varient of perfectionism, have an abstract model in their minds of how a revolution should and must be carried out.

    If the revolution isn’t carried out according to the approved method, that revolution is compared, contrasted, and found lacking. Trotskyists generally use the Russian Revolution of 1919 as the approved model, against which others are declared to be deficient. Cuba has no soviets? They demand “return to Lenin” as if there had ever been soviets during the Cuban Revolution. Alas, there never were any. One could go on and on. Trotskyists from the IMT to the Spartacists to Socialist Action harp on their demand the countries like Venezuela and Bolivia nationalize all of its industries. To the Trotskyists, nationalization is the key thing.

    Permanent revolution as DESCRIPTION is fine.
    Permanent revolution as PRESCRIPTION, that is, as programmatic norm, that’s what should be left behind, in my opinion.

    Each country will have to have its own process, and can’t be required to utilize some other method from another time and place. Lessons can and should be learned from all experiences, but the idea of models should, in my view, be left behind.

    John Riddell, like many other perfectionists, applies an unstated theoretical model against which to find the Chinese experience wanting. Since, according to his analysis, China has been going wrong since the Great Leap Forward in 1957,
    and even that has its roots in other errors commited going back to the 1920s, John Riddell condemns the Chinese leadership and condemns the Chinese to be living in what he considers to be a capitalist society.

    There’s plenty of capitalism in China, as all can agree, but there’s no multi-party system, the Chinese CP and the Chinese state remain in complete control of the banks, the armed forces of the state, and the mass media. How anyone could describe this situation as capitalist is simply unclear to me. John Riddell declares China capitalist.

    Russia: that is capitalist. China is a workers state, though one with significant inroads of capitalism within the society. China is NOT a socialist society, which would imply – as Trotsky pointed out in THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED – a higher productivity of labor than exists under capitalism. China is a post-capitalist but not-yet socialist society, in my opinion.

    If there has been so much economic growth and development under capitalism, as John Riddell describes China, doesn’t that raise questions as to whether or not socialism is capable of bringing society forward?

    And if China has become capitalist – through a more or less peaceful process of counter-revolution – doesn’t that raise questions about whether or not socialism can also brought about through peaceful means, at least in theory?

    China used to be viewed much more favorably in the Western capitalist media when they thought communism had been overthrown and capitalism implanted in the largest country on the planet. Now that China has become an economic powerhouse on an international scale, and the country is no longer willing to do what the Western powers want (such as endorse sanctions against Iran, to cite one example), China is getting a much more negative press. This is exacerbated by the massive economic debt which countries like the United States have toward China now. Debtors resent creditors, today as they always have.

    Many Western radicals have joined the campaign to describe China as capitalist. John Riddell isn’t the only one. This phenomenon is very widespread. But just why Western radicals should be spending so much of their time and effort going back decades and decades and decades to reach the pre-selected conclusion that everything in China is bad, Bad, BAD, that I’m afraid makes no sense to me.

    Haven’t Western radicals something better to do with their time?

    ===============================
    Dear Anthony Brain: My name is spelled Lippmann
    Thanks.

  4. Praba on 13 Jan 2010 at 7:29 am #

    I am a communist living in Australia of Tamil origin who has followed with interest the debate between John Riddell and Walter Lippmann. Walter is definitely on the right side of the fence in this debate. Although I disagree with a few specifics (such as certain excesses in his later comments about the issue of foreign capitalist investment in workers states), the main thing is that Walter solidarises with the PRC. This stance is right because the PRC remains a workers state (although one where there has been dangerous levels of capitalist penetration). The attitude of socialists to the PRC must be one of overwhelming solidarity while opposing any rightist tendencies within the ruling party. This solidarity is doubly crucial for communists living outside of China, triply so for those living in anti-PRC, imperialist countries like the U.S., Australia and Canada.

    The concluding sentence of Riddell’s original article asserts that there has “ultimately” been the “rise of a capitalist system of production in the People’s Republic.” However, when Walter points to Fidel Castro’s support for the PRC, Riddell sidesteps the issue of the class character of the PRC and the resulting question of whether there should be solidarity or hostility to the current PRC state. Riddell describes Castro’s statements as “useful statements … on the Chinese Revolution.” But he neglects to say that Castro believes the Chinese socialistic state is well and truly alive. Unlike Riddell, Castro believes that the Chinese state should be thoroughly supported. Check out his comments on the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution: http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/reflexiones/2009/ing/f061009i.html

    I believe Fidel is absolutely correct for his staunch support for the PRC. I must note that while I as a Trotskyist consider the PRC to be approximately described by the rough category of “deformed workers state”, to Fidel the PRC is simply Socialist China … full stop!

    Many in the Western left take the opposite position to Fidel Castro and claim that China is “capitalist.” Yet in the PRC, state owned enterprises dominate nearly every strategic sector – much more so than in countries like Venezuela. For example, over 95% of the revenue from the PRC’s oil and gas industry is controlled by state enterprises – principally the three state-owned energy giants China National Petroleum Corporation, Sinopec and CNOOC. Furthermore all of China’s “Big Four” banks are state-owned, as are all its policy banks. Indeed, Western business media are fond of complaining that of all China’s over 100 banks, only one is private. And one cannot simply dismiss the PRC state banks as “state capitalist.” At key times they act in ways that would be madness for a capitalist firm. During the global economic downturn, these state banks went on a lending spree to finance infrastructure construction and investment. In a downturn this would be lunacy for capitalist banks driven by pure profit (which is why in the capitalist world the banks did the exact opposite by curbing lend) but it was very good for the interests of the Chinese masses as it helped to shield them from the global recession.

    I think Walter’s point about how that the PRC has become an economic powerhouse is crucial to examine. This could not be possible under capitalist rule. Indeed one of the key motivations Marxists have for overthrowing capitalism is that it cannot consistently develop the productive forces. If one looks at the PRC today it is able to provide for its masses in a way that no populous capitalist country – like India, Pakistan, Indonesia etc – that had previously been at comparable levels of development to China is able to. For example in China the level of malnutrition of children under three was about six times lower than in India by 2006 (and the gap has since then continued to increase). See for instance:
    http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/beijingbrief_svedberg.pdf

    Riddell does not try to deny China’s economic achievements but explains them as being a result of the post-Mao “capitalist” development taking place on the back of the enormous gains of the prior (or what he says is the prior), socialist state. But this analysis is incorrect. The Russian Revolution also brought terrific gains over decades to the peoples of the former USSR but once capitalist power was restored in 1991-92, poverty skyrocketed and industrial production plummeted, very different from what has happened in post-Mao China. The point is that if the workers state apparatus is dismantled and a state serving capitalism is constructed – as happened in Russia – even the remaining state-owned enterprises will not and cannot be guided to serve the masses interests and overall development goals. But in China the workers state has not been dismantled.

    The workers state in China exists not only structurally but also in the ideological training of its personnel. So although there clearly was a serious drift to the right in China post-1978, it is an exaggeration for John Riddell to simply say, that “the socialist movement and ideology that headed the revolution, identified with Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, disappeared from China soon after his death in 1976.” Just look at the recent 60th anniversary celebrations in the PRC. It is not so much that Mao’s portrait and slogans headed the parade. More to the point is the slogans that People’s Liberation Army soldiers were required to chant within barracks in the lead up to the event. These include, “Build a socialist harmonious society and promote social equity and justice.” Another chant, one which really angered the right-wing Economist journal (see http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14384368 ), begins “Uphold the basic economic system with public ownership playing the dominant role .…” The People’s Liberation Army hardly sound like a reliable instrument for enforcing capitalism!

    It is precisely because the state organs in China do not serve capitalism that the real pro-capitalist forces in China and abroad want to radically reconstruct its state organs. Riddell states that “it goes without saying that we should support their [Chinese working people’s] efforts to obtain social and political rights – equality before the law, freedom of speech and assembly, etc – and to resist capitalist exploitation, just as we do with regard to working people in the Unites States and Canada.” However, he should consider that in China, unlike in the United States or Canada, almost every anti-state force that claims to fight for social and political rights– from “pro-deomcracy” groups, to Falun Gong, to pro-Dalai Lama forces – are either openly
    anti-communist or otherwise subordinated to Western imperialism. Included among these forces are anti-regime “labor rights” activists like Han Dongfang’s China Labour Bulletin group. Han has a featured show in the Radio Free Asia station, which is run by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, the same people who run the Radio/TV Marti show that beams counterrevolutionary propaganda into Cuba.

    Of course Riddell makes some interesting points about the Great Leap per se. But there is a contradiction between these points about the serious harmful effects of the Great Leap and his conclusion that China is now capitalist. And here is the contradiction. If the decisive section of the Chinese toilers (understanding the huge revolutionary gains) chose to remain loyal to the workers state even after its leadership launched such a disastrous policy as the Great Leap, then why does Riddell think that some 15 to 20 years later the Chinese working people would allow capitalist forces to take power by stealth without a major political battle.

    Indeed over the last few decades the Chinese working class has hardly displayed signs of the massive demoralistaion that would follow a huge defeat – which is what capitalist counterrevolution would be. Instead they have been boisterous and audacious. The country is awash with strikes and what is more these strikes quickly develop into road blocks, factory occupations, hostage taking etc. One could say the Chinese workers often act like they own the country … and this is because in a sense they do own it! In China strikes often win and this not infrequently after the central or higher provincial governments embarrasingly come down upon local authorities for failing to protect workers interests.

    A major workers struggle in China occurred last July at the Tonghua steel plant. This was after the state-owned factory was privatised. When workers heard of it, they gathered outside the factory gates in the thousands, occupied the plant, took the new capitalist boss hostage and then some workers even beat him to death. Within hours the privatisation was annulled. Most interestingly there was no subsequent official propaganda campaign against the Tonghua workers for killing the private boss. In fact state-owned media showed much sympathy for the workers and almost none for the dead capitalist. Could you imagine by contrast what the mainstream media in the U.S., Canada or Australia would do if a similar thing were to happen there!

    The struggles and pro-communist consciousness within the Chinese masses constrains counterrevolutionary tendencies within the state apparatus. As a result in recent years the slide to the right in official policy has been halted and in some ways started to be reversed. The Western business media are horrified for example at the spate of renationalisations in the PRC – renationalisations that began before the global economic crisis (see for example: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/the-great-leap-backwards/story-e6frg8zx-1225797993985)

    Today, within the PRC workers state there are intense factional struggles between on the one hand, more pro-communist elements reflecting the pressure of class conscious workers, and on the other hand, capitalist restorationist forces representing the post-1978 layer of capitalists and their Western godfathers. These factional contests get played out all the way up to the politburo of the Communist Party of China (CPC). If Western leftists, on the wrong basis that China is “capitalist,” support those forces who under the guise of “democracy” want to weaken the PRC proletarian state, they are only going to encourage counterrevolutionary factions within the CPC. On the other hand if Western socialists squarely solidarise with the PRC, oppose anti-PRC exile groups and emphasise support for the pro-socialist aspects of the PRC, then this will encourage pro-communist factions within the PRC. This is what communists in the West must do.

  5. John Riddell on 13 Jan 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    CLARIFICATION:

    I’m glad to see that the exchange on China posted Jan. 10 on Socialist Voice has provoked a flurry of comment. In these contributions, it was several times stated that I had declared China to be capitalist. That is not the case.

    Here is what I wrote, once again.

    “China also benefits from the strength of the state as an economic player, especially with respect to the banks. This has been shown in China’s ability to sail through two major capitalist financial collapses, one regional (a decade ago) and the other worldwide. I hesitate to ascribe socialist significance to the state sector; it seems more to be state capitalist. But let’s recall what Lenin said about the progressive significance of state capitalism, under certain circumstances. The circumstance in China is that the strong state sector and state economic dirigism greatly strengthen China’s defenses against its imperialist rivals.”

    My explanatory reference to Lenin relates to his comments in 1921-22 regarding of the progressive significance of state capitalism in Soviet Russia at that time, when the working-class character of the state was taken for granted by all Bolsheviks.

    The fact that capitalist accumulation is so prominent in the Chinese economy today does not imply, in my opinion, that the Chinese state is necessarily bourgeois.

  6. Chris Slee on 14 Jan 2010 at 4:33 am #

    Praba says that in China “state owned enterprises dominate nearly every strategic sector”. Certainly they dominate some important sectors, but the state sector’s share of industrial production fell from 100% in 1978 to 31.6% in 2004.

    In Iraq under Saddam Hussein the oil industry was nationalised but I don’t think this made Iraq a workers state.

    Praba says: “I think Walter’s point about how that the PRC has become an economic powerhouse is crucial to examine. This could not be possible under capitalist rule.”

    Marx believed that capitalism would develop the productive forces and create the material preconditions for socialism. By contrast, many later Marxists have argued that capitalism is unable to develop the economies of the third world countries, and only a workers state could do so. Actual experience shows highly uneven development in the third world. Some parts have had considerable industrial development (e.g. South Korea and Taiwan), others have not.

    China’s rapid economic growth is in part due to the decision of many transnational corporations to make China their main base for the export of goods to the world market. They were attracted by the low wages and large reserve army of labor created by the spread of market relations in the countryside, and by the sacking of millions of workers from state owned enterprises. They believed that the Deng Xiaoping regime was a reliable pro-capitalist government.

    Praba says: “Riddell does not try to deny China’s economic achievements but explains them as being a result of the post-Mao “capitalist” development taking place on the back of the enormous gains of the prior (or what he says is the prior), socialist state. But this analysis is incorrect. The Russian Revolution also brought terrific gains over decades to the peoples of the former USSR but once capitalist power was restored in 1991-92, poverty skyrocketed and industrial production plummeted, very different from what has happened in post-Mao China.”

    China has attracted much more foreign investment than Russia has up to now. This was partly because China got in first. However Russia under Putin began to attract more foreign investment than it did under Yeltsin. The foreign capitalists were not deterred by the limited re-nationalisation measures taken by Putin (particularly in the oil industry). The Russian economy began to recover from the deep depression of the 1990s, although the global economic crisis has caused renewed problems.

    Praba says: “If the decisive section of the Chinese toilers (understanding the huge revolutionary gains) chose to remain loyal to the workers state even after its leadership launched such a disastrous policy as the Great Leap, then why does Riddell think that some 15 to 20 years later the Chinese working people would allow capitalist forces to take power by stealth without a major political battle.”

    There was at least one major battle – the Beijing massacre of 1989 – as well as numerous smaller ones. The working class suffered real losses, particularly during the 1990s, in terms of job security, social welfare, the privatisation of public assets, etc.

    Praba says: “Indeed over the last few decades the Chinese working class has hardly displayed signs of the massive demoralisation that would follow a huge defeat – which is what capitalist counterrevolution would be. Instead they have been boisterous and audacious. The country is awash with strikes and what is more these strikes quickly develop into road blocks, factory occupations, hostage taking etc.”

    It is true that the workers are fighting back against the attacks.

    Praba says: “The struggles and pro-communist consciousness within the Chinese masses constrains counterrevolutionary tendencies within the state apparatus. As a result in recent years the slide to the right in official policy has been halted and in some ways started to be reversed.”

    It is true that in recent years, particularly since about the year 2000, the government has made concessions to the workers. For example it is creating a new welfare system to replace that destroyed by privatisation.

    Praba says: “Today, within the PRC workers state there are intense factional struggles between on the one hand, more pro-communist elements reflecting the pressure of class conscious workers, and on the other hand, capitalist restorationist forces representing the post-1978 layer of capitalists and their Western godfathers. These factional contests get played out all the way up to the politburo of the Communist Party of China (CPC).”

    I would view the struggle within the Communist Party leadership as one between pro-imperialist neoliberals and bourgeois nationalists. The latter wish to retain a substantial degree of independence from the imperialist powers. Retaining a strong state sector helps them to do this.

    I don’t doubt that there are many genuine socialists in the ranks on the CP.

    Chris Slee

  7. Fred Feldman on 14 Jan 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    Chinese Imperialism? Response to Dimitris Fasfalis, by Fred Feldman

    Dimitris Fasfalis: “The evidence, however, of Chinese imperialistic policies exists.”

    Contrary to Dimitris, I believe that China remains an oppressed and dependent nation — not an imperialist power but a country oppressed by imperialism. This remains true despite the great expansion and development of China’s economy and its rise to a stronger position vis a vis imperialism in the world. These are developments which I think revolutionaries should basically greet as progressive, despite all manner of unresolved social, economic, and political contradictions.

    I recommend that comrades read the article, “America’s Head Servant,” by Hung Ho-fung in the November-December New Left Review http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2809
    .

    While Hung takes a much dimmer view of China’s overall development than I do, he does a good job of demonstrating that China is not about to become an imperialist power, let alone replace the US as the dominant world power.

    Hung shows that the strategy of the Chinese ruling circles thus far has been centrally based on rising to the top of a system of export platforms serving the US imperialist market, with industrial expansion being concentrated primarily (although not at all exclusively) along the eastern coastal regions.

    The great piles of dollars and bonds that China has accumulated are actually a form of imperialist extortion. China is forced to prop up the dollar and the US financial markets as the price of maintaining this essentially subordinate economic role in servicing the US market. We should reject the fantasy that this accumulation gives China some veto power over US policies. The Chinese leaders — who have no illusions that they are about to take over the world — cannot afford to and do not share this dream-state. They know the score.

    Hung points out that the positive developmental effects of this strategy seem to be wearing thin as the US financial structure and the market show signs of weakening. He proposes what seems like a reasonable set of steps for the Chinese government to take to defend itself against the coming dangers, and increase independence and the balanced development of the productive forces.

    So China is still a country compelled, like many others, to one degree or another, to grope and struggle for more independence from imperialism.

    While China’s success in heading off collapse in the Asian economic crash of 1997 and in the world financial crisis of 2007 was a sign of great (and, for the imperialists and quite a few leftists, unexpected) strength, many other economic shocks set off by the crisis of imperialism will most likely be coming China’s way.

    Leftists in Europe and North America should resist the temptatopm to denounmce China as imperialist and seeming to warn African and other countries not to accept trade with or investment from China. Znstead, they should solidarize with any and all efforts of China, like all the other nations oppressed by imperialism regardless of their social character, to deepen independence economically and politically from imperialism. Labeling China imperialist puts us on the wrong side of that struggle.

    Dimitris’s arguments for China’s imperialist character are threadbare. They are basically limited to the assertion (not demonstrated by any supporting facts) that China is engaged in unequal exchange with African and other oppressed countries.

    In fact, unequal exchange is not a unique characteristic of imperialism, but permeates the entire capitalist system, beginning with the sale of labor power to capital and going all the way to how the rate of profit is “equalized” in various countries. For instance, the way much of the surplus value produced by superexploited workers at small factories often ends up in the pockets of much bigger capitalists than the cockroaches who employ these workers.

    Although imperialism certainly intensifies and spreads unequal exchange it did not originate it. In fact, probably every exchange that takes place under any capitalism developed enough to have an average national profit rate probably contains some tribute paid by the weak to the strong.

    So Dimitris’ unproven claim that China is engaging in unequal exchange with African countries would not prove that China was an imperialist power even if Dimitri proved it to be a fact that China was engaged in unequal exchange with some or all of them.

    The rest of his argument insists on — but makes no effort to demonstrate — the exploitative role of China’s apparently sinister role in Africa.

    Should African countries unite to kick Chinese goods, investments, specialists, construction workers and so on out of Africa? Should we demand that China stop investing in and trading with African countries? Such anti-China measures, which Dimitri does not propose but which his analysis might encourage, would only strengthen the bloody hands of the real imperialists in Africa and decrease the sovereignty of the African countries.

    Why is the imperialist media so eager to encircle China’s economic activities in Africa with a sinister aura? Very simple. They don’t want the African nations, many in desperate condition, to have this option. They don’t want them to utilize dealings with China to give them greater maneuvering room and bargaining power, including in relation to imperialism.
    Isn’t this obvious?

    Where are the Chinese troops, bombers, naval forces and so on in Africa? Where are the civil wars for which China’s role is responsible. Certainly not the holocaust-like war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which has taken millions of lives, fomented by imperialist powers competing for the country’s resources. Or the devastating struggles in Sudan, so full of opportunities for imperialist intervention of all kinds?

    Where are the Chinese wars and threats of war if its demands are not met? What violence and compulsion does “Chinese imperialism” use to force its demands on the peoples of Africa?

    Where is China’s World Bank and IMF to force austerity on poor nations. Where are China’s trade embargos, blockades, and “sanctions regimes”? How does Chinese imperialism compel obedience in Africa or anywhere outside its borders? Where are the coups pulled off by the Chinese CIA?

    (I should note here that China invaded Vietnam in 1979, largely in an effort by Deng to demonstrate usefulness to US imperialism which was finally establishing diplomatic and economic relations with the PRC after 30 years of war, boycott, and trade embargo. In a month of fighting, with heavy casualties on both sides, the Vietnamese people forced out the invaders who never got very deep into their territory.

    (There has been no repetition of that “experiment” in the last 30 years, and no sign of any in the offing. Chinese government relations with Vietnam have been normalized, including trade.

    (Deng’s failure in the People’s Republic’s one attempt in its history at a war of aggression against another country is another sign that China is not approaching an outward explosion of imperialist expansion. The overwhelming strategic orientation of the armed forces is DEFENSIVE, NOT OFFENSIVE.)

    Dimitris claims that China’s trade with and investment in Angola is about gaining access to Angola’s oil, which he suggests is the same as controlling Angolan oil. Doesn’t this take some of the fire off the US, the power that waged war, direct and indirect, in Angola for decades and devastated the country partly because of the desire to control and possess the oil fields? They were not satisfied, you see, with “access.”

    China wants to buy Angolan oil? No doubt. Angola also wants to sell it, no doubt. What is wrong with that? China is sending money and workers who are helping rebuild a country that US imperialism devastated. What is wrong with that? There is considerable evidence that the exchange benefits both sides.

    And Dimitris offers NO evidence that matters are otherwise.

    Compare what China is doing in African countries to what the French imperialists have done to bring devastation to large sections of north and west Africa. What is accomplished by placing the French and US roles and that of China on the same level and declaring all three to be imperialist criminals? Who benefits from this equation of what cannot be equated?

    In order to portray China as a imperialist power, moving aggressively into the Great Game of world domination, Dimitri is compelled to greatly play down the centrality of compulsion, violence, subversion, intimidation, and war in imperialism’s international course, and their persistent absence in China’s.
    And why don’t the revolutionary governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, the nationalist governments of Ecuador and Nicaragua, or governments like Brazil and Argentina recognize the threat of China? Why don’t they realize that China is ripping them off and trying to take over their resources?

    As for the character of the Chinese state, my opinion is that the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist foundations created by the great Chinese revolution of 1949-55 have not been destroyed despite all the damage done, particularly during the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which brought socialist perspectives into discredit among many sectors of society, including among workers and peasants; and despite the accumulation of capitalist forces in China since that time.

    But setting this aside (since it is being debated elsewhere in this discussion), I think the extremely negative tone adopted by much of the European and North American far left toward China in recent years needs to be radically modified and, frankly, at least softened. It does violence to the facts and points politically in a dangerous direction which, despite the intention of these far leftists, simply is not anti-imperialist in its real content.

    Dropping the unfounded charge of “Chinese imperialism” would be a promising start.
    Fred Feldman

  8. Walter Lippmann on 20 Jan 2010 at 2:03 am #

    CLARIFICATION REQUESTION FROM JOHN RIDDELL

    He writes:
    CLARIFICATION:

    I’m glad to see that the exchange on China posted Jan. 10 on Socialist Voice has provoked a flurry of comment. In these contributions, it was several times stated that I had declared China to be capitalist. That is not the case.
    ———-
    The fact that capitalist accumulation is so prominent in the Chinese economy today does not imply, in my opinion, that the Chinese state is necessarily bourgeois.
    ===============

    WALTER INQUIRES:
    Well, John, what IS the class nature of the Chines state? Leftists around the world are debating the class nature of the Chinese state.

    Capitalism has NOT been restored in China, though lots of private investment from abroad has taken place, and an indigenous Chines capitalist class has been created.

    But so long as the Chines Communist Party remains in power, and is the sole party, and the state controls the armed forces of repression and the media, capitalism has not been restored. It HAS been restored in Russia, but not in China.

    Now, John, what is YOUR position on the class nature of the Chinese state?

    Thanks,

    Walter Lippmann

  9. Chris Slee on 21 Jan 2010 at 1:52 am #

    Walter says: “But so long as the Chinese Communist Party remains in power, and is the sole party, and the state controls the armed forces of repression and the media, capitalism has not been restored.”

    But the question is whether the Chinese Communist Party really is communist. This must be judged by what it does, not by what it calls itself.

    During the 1990s, when the CP government was privatising industry, destroying the health and welfare system, and allowing transnational corporations to exploit Chinese workers without any union protection, it was acting like a capitalist government of the neoliberal variety. And if a government consistently acts like a capitalist government, then I would say it IS a capitalist government.

    In recent years the situation has changed a bit. The Chinese government, under the leadership of president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao (who both came to office in 2002), has taken some steps towards partially reversing some of the neoliberal measures. It has introduced a new labor law giving workers some minimal rights. It has encouraged the All China Federation of Trade Unions to unionise foreign owned enterprises. It has begun creating a new welfare system to replace that destroyed by privatisation. Some enterprises have been nationalised. For more details, see:
    http://links.org.au/node/1355

    My current view is that these changes are reforms within capitalism, rather than the start of a renewed drive towards socialism. I think the reforms have been adopted for two reasons: as a concession to the rising level of mass struggle by the workers and peasants; and as a response to capitalist economic crises (firstly the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98, then the world economic crisis of 2008), which caused some CP leaders to lose faith in the neoliberal model.

    However, if we were to see a deepening of these progressive measures in coming years, I would have to look again at how I analyse the situation. I would have to consider various possibilities: Perhaps we are seeing the beginning a new socialist revolution which might reverse Deng Xiaoping’s counter-revolution? Or perhaps I was wrong to to see Deng’s neoliberal policies as indicating that a counter-revolution had occurred?

    But I think it is premature to jump to either of these conclusions at this stage. The reforms adopted so far are quite compatible with capitalism (albeit departing from strict neoliberal orthodoxy).

    Chris Slee

  10. Praba on 22 Jan 2010 at 8:02 am #

    In response to a point that in China state owned enterprises dominate nearly every strategic sector, Chris Slee responds that: “Certainly they dominate some important sectors, but the state sector’s share of industrial production fell from 100% in 1978 to 31.6% in 2004.” However, it is misleading to base an assessment on this latter statistic even if it is accurate. There are several reasons why.

    Firstly, it does not account for the state’s overwhelming dominance in politically and economically important non-industrial sectors such banking, media, communications etc. Furthermore in the PRC, the state owns not only all agricultural land but has a grip on the distribution of agricultural produce.

    Secondly, it should be noted that a portion of China’s non-state sector is not privately owned but is rather the Collective sector which sits somewhere between state property and private property.

    Thirdly in the context of the PRC workers state even many of the biggest nominally private companies in China are subjected to significant state control. Take for instance computer-maker Lenovo, which is China’s biggest nominally private company and even held up by some as the prime example of supposed “Chinese global capitalism.” Despite Lenovo’s status as a “private company,” it is 42.3% owned by its parent Legend Holdings which is in turn controlled and 36% owned by the state-owned Chinese Academy of Sciences Holdings (as well as being 35% owned by its employees). This has some influence in its direction. In mid-2006, the chairman of Lenovo, which at the time was paying only a tiny dividend to shareholders said that profit should be secondary to revenue (in other words employment and production volume of computers/equipment was being put first). The chairman stated: “for this year, the goal is revenue growth and we hope profits improve, but that’s not our primary objective.” South China Morning Post’s business columnist Jake van der Kamp’s response exemplified the outrage in the capitalist business world at this outlook: “When I notice the chairman saying that he does not really care that much about profits, I truly begin to wonder what we are looking at here …. If this is the way you treat investment bv other people in your company, don’t ever ask me to buy your stock.”

    Fourthly and most crucially, state enterprises predominate in those base sectors upon which the rest of the economy relies on. Although there was way too much privatisation in China in the 1990s, the private sector is really only dominant in light manufacturing and retail. Among the sectors where state-owned enterprises dominate include: banking, insurance, communications, steel, oil and gas, aluminimum mining and refining, power, copper, gold, glass, cement, grain/sugar/rice processing, airlines, aircraft manufacturing, train maunfacturing, automotive, shipping, shipbuilding etc. Through control of these pillar sectors, the state is able to have a decisive influence on the entire economy. Of all the fixed assets in China (buildings, factories, infrastructure etc), 86% is in state hands. Eighty-six percent! And of China’s biggest 22 companies, each and every one of them is state-owned!

    In response to a point that a previously impoverished, populous country like China could not have been turned into an economic powerhouse under capitalist rule, Chris Slee says that: “Marx believed that capitalism would develop the productive forces and create the material preconditions for socialism. By contrast, many later Marxists have argued that capitalism is unable to develop the economies of the third world countries, and only a workers state could do so. Actual experience shows highly uneven development in the third world. Some parts have had considerable industrial development (e.g. South Korea and Taiwan), others have not.”

    Actually Marx believed that while capitalism unleashes the productive forces with respect to previous social systems it then seriously constrains their development. Already in the Communist Manifesto (and this was written before capitalism had completely outlived its progressive phase as signalled by the breakout of World War I), Marx and Engels state: “For a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are conditions for the existence of the bourgeoisie and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put on its trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire bourgeois society. In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed.”

    It is interesting to note too the two specific examples that Slee gives of Third World countries that have undergone industrial development: South Korea (which by the way was not as undeveloped as India or China were at the end of WW2) and Taiwan. Both are frontline states in the Cold War that have been propped by the U.S. to be bulwarks against communism – specifically to be fortresses against the North Korean and Chinese workers states. But while imperialism can prop up countries with relatively small populations so that they do not fall into the grip of socialism, they are incapable of and unwilling to prop up countries with huge populations. Therefore I reiterate what I posted earlier: “If one looks at the PRC today it is able to provide for its masses in a way that no populous capitalist country – like India, Pakistan, Indonesia etc – that had previously been at comparable levels of development to China is able to.” And this achievement is all the more notable when one takes into account that the PRC has had to deal with considerable imperialist hostility while pursuing its development.

    In answering a point comparing the disaster that has beset Russian working people since the 1991-92 capitalist counterrevolution with China’s success in pulling people out of poverty in the same period and noting that this indicates that China has not undergone a capitalist counterrevolution like Russia, Slee responds:
    “China has attracted much more foreign investment than Russia has up to now. This was partly because China got in first. However Russia under Putin began to attract more foreign investment than it did under Yeltsin. The foreign capitalists were not deterred by the limited re-nationalisation measures taken by Putin (particularly in the oil industry). The Russian economy began to recover from the deep depression of the 1990s, although the global economic crisis has caused renewed problems.”

    Chris Slee is basically arguing that if post-Soviet Russia had gotten the same degree of foreign investment as China its rate of development would have been comparable to China’s. The implications of this line of argument are very harmful for socialists and not simply for this debate about China. If we accept this line of argument it has liquidationist conclusions for the general anti-capitalist struggle. It means accepting that not only is imperialist investment and capitalist rule (which is what Slee thinks the PRC has come under) sufficient to promote rapid economic development but that imperialist investment is indeed key to such development. What does that mean for socialists in Indonesia, Brazil, India, Philippines etc? Furthermore Slee’s assertions mean renouncing a very powerful argument we can make to the masses in favour of the socialist system: that the replacement in Russia of a planned economy – even a bureaucratically deformed one – with capitalism caused a massive blow to the country’s economy and to a big rise in poverty. According to the logic of Slee’s arguments, counterrevolution need not have led to such a “depression” if only Russia had been able to attract more foreign investment. Funnily enough that is exactly what imperialist media commentators say. Slee also shares the imperialist media’s view as to the reasons for China’s rapid development: supposedly foreign capitalist investment. It is obvious why the capitalist media would push such a view – they do not want socialism to get the credit for China’s economic successes. But why would socialists want to push such a view?

    The notion that China’s rapid development is primarily due to foreign investment is in good part a Western media myth. The main reason for the PRC’s economic success has been the dominance of its economy by large state-owned enterprises, which while not subjected to direct central planning are still coordinated and at key times centrally directed. Foreign capitalist investment has sometimes brought harmful effects to the PRC masses while it has also sometimes contributed to economic development. To the extent the latter is the case it is because the workers state oversees and controls it.

    It certainly was not foreign investment that got China through the global recession. Indeed in the first half of this year when the global crisis was at its steepest, foreign direct investment into China was 20% lower than in the same period last year while state investment grew by 22%.

    A few other points need to also be made in response to Slee’s arguments about Russia vs China. One is that it needs to be clear that if the capitalist Russian economy started to pick up in the early part of the 21st century it is in good part because it had fallen so far in the years after capitalist counterrevolution that it could hardly slide further. Furthermore its growth after 2000 had less to do with increased foreign investment and much, much more to do with the sharply increased prices for oil and gas – Russia’s main exports. See the following chart:

    http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=WTOTWORLD&f=W

    In any case even with these very advantageous prices for itself, Putin’s capitalist Russia has not achieved the consistent growth of the PRC.

    To the point that Chinese working people would not allow capitalist forces to take power by stealth without a major political battle, Slee responds that “There was at least one major battle – the Beijing massacre of 1989 – as well as numerous smaller ones.”

    Yet the tragic events at Tiananmen in June 1989 were not one where there was a clear battle between those upholding the proletarian state and those for capitalist counterrevolution. When the Tiananmen protests began the students involved had a wide variety of demands from legitimate ones like anti-corruption to wrong ones like a speeding up of pro-market reforms. They generally were supportive of the right-wing faction of the CPC. Indeed protests initially started as a commemoration for the then recently deceased, pro-market, Gorbachevite CPC leader, Hu Yaobang. When workers joined the movement they were however generally hostile to the market reforms and the inflation that it brought. Some workers carried portraits of Mao. Others however shared the students illusions in “democracy” in the abstract without a class content – in other words there was sympathy for a program that would have weakened the specifically pro-communist ideological/political character of the PRC in favour of its transformation into a “neutral” democratic state – something that if carried out would have eventually led to counterrevolution.

    If there was confusion and division amongst the opposition movement (united only by their distrust of the then government), the same could be said of the CPC leadership. In part the CPC tops who decided to crush the 1989 movement feared that the entry of anti-market workers into the movement gave the possibility that it could be transformed into a socialist-defending, anti-bureaucratic movement that could have toppled the CPC officials from their privileged position. However, there was also a genuine fear within the CPC leadership that the liberalisation and classless democratic reforms demanded by the opposition would open the door to capitalist counterrevolution.

    So while the way the opposition movement was brutally crushed was a bad thing for Chinese socialism it did not mean the victory of capitalist restorationist forces against defenders of the proletarian state as implied by Slee. This is proven by several things. For one imperialist governments and the Western capitalist media not only claimed the opposition movement as their own but denounced the crackdown – something they would not have done if the crackdown had been in the clear service of counterrevolution. Secondly, it is notable that most of the leaders of the anti-government forces ended up becoming open supporters of Western imperialism who accept funding and guidance from Washington. Meanwhile Zhao Ziyang, the CPC General Secretary, at the time who was purged for his support for the student protesters also later called unashamedly for Western-style (ie bourgeois) “democracy.” Thirdly, the successful crushing of the opposition movement was not followed by mass privatisations. Indeed for three years following June 1989, the market reforms were put on hold and foreign investment was restricted. They did not start up a gain until Deng’s Southern tour in 1992. Meanwhile in the immediate aftermath of the crushing of the Tiananmen protests, several right-wing, pro-market and Gorbachevite elements in the PRC government were purged and more anti-market elements for a while gained a better factional position.

    It is worth comparing the outcome of the complex April-June 1989 Tiananmen events with an event that did truly mark the victory of counterrevolutionary forces – the counter-coup by Boris Yeltsin’s supporters in late August 1991 in Russia. Here all the most hard-core supporters of capitalist restoration lined up with Yeltsin. The victory of the Yeltsin counter-coup was followed by a ban on Communist Party cells in the army, police and other state organs. The Soviet Union was within months disbanded, the army ceased to be an explicitly pro-communist army, new ideological mantras replaced the old socialistic traditions of the state apparatus and many pro-communist officers in the army were either purged, demoted or resigned in protest. A pro-capitalist economic “shock therapy” was immediately instituted.

    In response to a point about the domination of state-owned enterprises over China’s strategic economic sectors, Slee offers the following comparison: “In Iraq under Saddam Hussein the oil industry was nationalised but I don’t think this made Iraq a workers state.”

    But the Iraqi state under Saddam that held the oil industry was not created by an anti-capitalist revolution as the PRC was. In the PRC, the main traditions that shape the army and other state organs TODAY, the examples that their personnel are thought to emulate, are socialistic struggles – in particular the 1949 Revolution, the Long March and to a degree also the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (the PRC’s defence of the DPRK during the Korean War). By contrast in Saddam’s Iraq the traditions that shaped the state’s armed bodies were the rightist, CIA-backed coup in the early 1960s, the brutal suppression of communists over decades, U.S-backed (until the 1990s) wars against Kurdish guerrillas and a squalid, costly war with Iran.

    The point is that the social system that a country can follow is determined by the political character of its state organs – its army, police, courts, bureaucracy etc. This is the crucial point, central to Leninism, that Chris Slee is not understanding. He shows this again in his most recent post where he posits that if the current progressive measures instituted by the Hu Jintao government are deepened in the coming years he may consider that it show “we are seeing the beginning [of] a new socialist revolution which might reverse Deng Xiaoping’s counter-revolution? “ But to transform a society from capitalism to socialism or back the other way can only be done by smashing the existing state’s coercive institutions, purging its cadre, overturning the traditions it is based on etc. The pre-1990s PRC workers state was not smashed by the Deng regime which is why there were limits to how far Deng’s rightist reforms could go. It also made these reforms reversible. And that is why it has been possible for some of the rightist reforms to be partially reversed over the last several years.

  11. Walter Lippmann on 23 Jan 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    Thanks to Socialist Voice for hosting this dialogue on the class nature of the Chinese state, and some of the consequences which flow from that.

    Chris Slee says the China is capitalist, but it’s a peculiar kind of capitalism which Chris Slee describes in these words:

    “The Chinese government, under the leadership of president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao (who both came to office in 2002), has taken some steps towards partially reversing some of the neoliberal measures. It has introduced a new labor law giving workers some minimal rights. It has encouraged the All China Federation of Trade Unions to unionise foreign owned enterprises. It has begun creating a new welfare system to replace that destroyed by privatisation. Some enterprises have been nationalised.”

    Walter (that’s me) wonders: Where else in the capitalist world in today’s era of neo-liberal globalization are capitalist governments giving workers MORE rights, encouraging MORE unionization and creating NEW welfare systems to replace old ones destroyed by privitazation?

    What’s decisive is what’s going on in the society, where nationalized property remains predominant in banking, the Chinese state retains control of foreign policy, and the army and mass media remain in control of the state. NONE of these have been privatized. No parties committed to restoring china to capitalism can legally exist or function.

    (Russia has become capitalist and all of these conditions now obtain in Russia and in Eastern Europe, which are also all capitalist countries today.)

    Groups like the International Socialist Organization are more consistent. They say that the absence of soviets means there is no socialism in China or Cuba.

    Here’s the ISO on Cuba and China:

    “China and Cuba, like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, have nothing to do with socialism. They are state capitalist regimes. We support the struggles of workers in these countries against the bureaucratic ruling class.”
    http://socialistworker.org/where-we-stand

    Of course there are no soviets in China, nor are there soviets in Cuba. There never have been in either society. Similarly, there were no soviets in the Soviet Union from 1920 to 1991, but capitalism wasn’t restored there (except to Shactman and groups like the ISO, of course)

    I make no claim that China is socialist. Never have. China is a workers state because capitalism was abolished and hasn’t been restored, despite the extensive privatizations and foreign investments. At the same time it doesn’t have what Trotskyists and othes would describe as a democratic political system because they permit neither mulitiple parties nor factions nor tendencies.

    Of course, Cuba doesn’t permit these things either, and I assume that Chris Slee and John Riddell are not critical of Cuba’s political structures.

    Chris Slee and John Riddell still seem to be committed to the notion that capitalism has been restored in China. But it’s a strange form of capitalism which is headed by a Communist Party which declares socialism to be its goal,
    doesn’t allow capitalist parties nor capitalist control of the mass media.

    And then there’s Vietnam, whose political structures aren’t qualitatively different from that of China or Vietnam, though with a smaller population than China (only 70 million), but larger than Cuba (onlly 11 million)

    A separate issue is that of the foreign policy of China.

    Perhaps another time we can look in and explore that.

    Thanks again for hosting this dialogue.

  12. chris slee on 23 Jan 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Praba says: “Although there was way too much privatisation in China in the 1990s, the private sector is really only dominant in light manufacturing and retail.”

    Calling it “light” manufacturing makes it sound unimportant. But the production of consumer goods for the world market employs vast numbers of Chinese workers, and has played a key role in China’s rapid economic growth.

    Praba says: “Of all the fixed assets in China (buildings, factories, infrastructure etc), 86% is in state hands.”

    This statistic gives a misleading impression. A building may be owned by the state, but used to generate profit for private capital.

    According to Anita Chan, in her book “China’s Workers Under Assault”: “…many local governments and bureaucracies are themselves partners of the joint ventures…The Chinese side usually provides the land and the factory building, and seeks to ensure the docility of the workers. In such circumstances, government and management stand together against labor”. (p.15)

    Praba says: “Chris Slee is basically arguing that if post-Soviet Russia had gotten the same degree of foreign investment as China its rate of development would have been comparable to China’s. The implications of this line of argument are very harmful for socialists and not simply for this debate about China. If we accept this line of argument it has liquidationist conclusions for the general anti-capitalist struggle. It means accepting that not only is imperialist investment and capitalist rule (which is what Slee thinks the PRC has come under) sufficient to promote rapid economic development but that imperialist investment is indeed key to such development.”

    That is not what I meant. I was merely rejecting Praba’s argument that rapid economic growth is proof of the non-capitalist nature of China.

    I agree that capitalism holds back the development of the productive forces on a world scale. But this does not mean that capitalism can not bring about rapid economic growth in some significant parts of the world for a considerable period of time.

    I did not mean to suggest that capitalism is the only system that can bring about economic growth. China’s industry developed fairly rapidly during the period when it was 100% state owned.

    My point was that, in considering whether a country is capitalist or not, we can’t just look at economic growth. We have to look at the relations of production.

    Workers in China sell their labor power to an employer, which in many cases is a local or foreign capitalist. Many workers are migrants from rural areas without even formal legal equality in the cities where they work. Hence they are vulnerable to the most extreme forms of exploitation.

    According to Anita Chan, “Migrant workers numbered about 80 million in 1999, a group almost as large as the urban state enterprise and urban collective workforce compined.” (p. 7)

    Migrant workers have no job security. 20 million were sacked from export oriented indudstry as a result of the 2008 economic crisis.

    Thus a substantial part of China’s working class suffers directly from capitalist exploitation, and feels the direct effects of capitalist economic crises.

    Workers in the state sector are also impacted by the spread of capitalist relations of production in China. Many have been sacked, while others have lost welfare benefits.

    Praba says: “What does that mean for socialists in Indonesia, Brazil, India, Philippines etc?”

    Other countries can not simply imitate China, because China already occupies a certain niche in the world capitalist economy. Indeed, many transnational corporations relocated much of their production from other third world countries to China, because of lower labor costs, better infrastructure, etc.

    Praba says: “The notion that China’s rapid development is primarily due to foreign investment is in good part a Western media myth. The main reason for the PRC’s economic success has been the dominance of its economy by large state-owned enterprises, which while not subjected to direct central planning are still coordinated and at key times centrally directed.”

    I agree that the state sector plays an important role, including providing infrastructure used by private capital, but the huge influx of foreign capital producing goods for the world market is what caused China’s unusually high growth rate.

    Praba says: “To the point that Chinese working people would not allow capitalist forces to take power by stealth without a major political battle, Slee responds that “There was at least one major battle – the Beijing massacre of 1989 – as well as numerous smaller ones.”

    “Yet the tragic events at Tiananmen in June 1989 were not one where there was a clear battle between those upholding the proletarian state and those for capitalist counterrevolution…..

    “So while the way the opposition movement was brutally crushed was a bad thing for Chinese socialism it did not mean the victory of capitalist restorationist forces against defenders of the proletarian state as implied by Slee.”

    I am not the only one to see a link between the Beijing massacre and the subsequent acceleration of privatisation and other “free market” policies. Wang Hui, a student who participated in the Tian An Men Square protests, later became a prominent academic in China. British author Mark Leonard, in his book “What does China Think?”, summarises Wang’s views as follows: “According to Wang Hui, the crackdown not only silenced calls for democracy, it also ended public debate about inequality. Once the tanks had done their work, the process of marketisation speeded up. The price reforms that had been called to a halt in the second half of 1988 were inplemented in September 1989….

    “For Wang Hui, the tanks that pulverised the hopeful intellectual flourishing of the 1980s were working on behalf of market fundamentalism rather than Maoism. Contrary to the view of the repression as a reassertion of Maoist ideology, the authoritarianism was acting to silence workers’ anxieties about inequality”.

    Praba says: “Meanwhile Zhao Ziyang, the CPC General Secretary, at the time who was purged for his support for the student protesters also later called unashamedly for Western-style (ie bourgeois) “democracy.” ”

    Zhao Ziyang had believed that market reforms should be accompanied by political liberalisation. But Deng Xiaoping believed that a strong authoritarian government was needed in order to implement market reforms, and it was his policy that prevailed.

    Praba says: “In the PRC, the main traditions that shape the army and other state organs TODAY, the examples that their personnel are thought to emulate, are socialistic struggles – in particular the 1949 Revolution, the Long March and to a degree also the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (the PRC’s defence of the DPRK during the Korean War). …

    “The point is that the social system that a country can follow is determined by the political character of its state organs – its army, police, courts, bureaucracy etc.”

    Trotsky said in The Revolution Betrayed that the Soviet bureaucracy “…has ceased to offer any subjective guarantee whatever of the socialist direction of its policy. It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat”.

    During the 1990s, the Chinese bureaucracy lost its fear of the working class sufficiently to carry out massive privatisation.

    The subsequent rise of working class struggle revived that fear a bit, causing the partial reversal of some neoliberal policies.Whether the predominance of capitalist relations of production will be overturned remains to be seen.

    Due to time constraints I will respond to Walter later.

    Chris Slee

  13. Walter Lippmann on 24 Jan 2010 at 1:14 am #

    Chris Slee never explains when he thinks China returned to capitalism, and how that happened. I don’t have to defend that view since I do not hold it, but someone who holds that view ought to explain how a country with a billion people had a more-or-less non-violent counter-revolution.

    Chris Slee quotes Trotsky’s reference in THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED to the Soviet bureaucracy’s having, as Slee puts it, “ceased to offer any subjective guarantee whatever of the socialist direction of its policy. It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat”.

    Slee omits to mention that when writing THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED, Trotsky’s view was that the USSR remained a workers state, one which Trotsky declared must be defended unconditionally (though not uncritically), against imperialist attack. Trotskyists continued their unconditional defense of the USSR up until its fall in 1989.

    Slee writes that the Chinese bureaucracy lost its fear of the working class during the 1990s, relatively recently by historical standards. Trotsky defended the Soviet Union unconditionally against imperialist attack, despite the bureaucracy’s loss of fear of the working class. But to Chris slee, China can now be attacked unconditionally.

    Indeed, as one reads Chris Slee’s contribution, it’s evident that Slee is approximately 99% hostile to everything which he sees as having happened in China. His comments constitute an implacable indictment.

    In conclusion, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, Slee and Riddell were right and China IS capitalist. Let’s look at how China responded to the Sichuan earthquake, on the one side, and how Washington responded to Hurricane Katrina and how Washington is responding to the Haitian earthquake. One would certainly have to say that Chinese capitalism is doing a hell of a better job than is the the US variety of capitalism.

    Here’s how TIME magazine, not a remotely leftist source, describes this:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20100121/wl_time/08599195464400

    Again, thanks for hosting the dialogue.

  14. chris slee on 25 Jan 2010 at 5:00 am #

    In his message of 23 January, Walter Lippmann says: “Where else in the capitalist world in today’s era of neo-liberal globalization are capitalist governments giving workers MORE rights, encouraging MORE unionization and creating NEW welfare systems to replace old ones destroyed by privatization?”

    Firstly, we should remember that it was the CP government (under a previous leadership) that created the problems which the current leadership is trying to ameliorate. Secondly, the reforms adopted so far don’t solve all the problems which the previous policies created.

    For example, the government under the previous leadership allowed foreign and local capitalists to exploit migrant workers (rural residents working in the cities) in an exceptionally ruthless manner. They were not only un-unionised, but were subject to laws preventing them from staying in the cities if their employer no longer wanted to employ them.

    While the All China Federation of Trade Unions is now signing up migrant workers as members, the residency laws remain in place, so migrant workers remain vulnerable, particularly since 20 million of them were sacked due to the world economic crisis.

    In his message of 24 January, Walter says: “Chris Slee never explains when he thinks China returned to capitalism, and how that happened. I don’t have to defend that view since I do not hold it, but someone who holds that view ought to explain how a country with a billion people had a more-or-less non-violent counter-revolution.”

    I could ask Walter a similar question. When did Russia become capitalist? Yeltsin’s seizure of power in 1991 was “more or less non-violent”.

    My answer in the case of China is that it occurred in 1989-1992, beginning with the Beijing massacre and culminating in the adoption of a policy of massive privatisation.

    Walter says: “Chris Slee quotes Trotsky’s reference in THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED to the Soviet bureaucracy’s having, as Slee puts it, “ceased to offer any subjective guarantee whatever of the socialist direction of its policy. It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat”.

    “Slee omits to mention that when writing THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED, Trotsky’s view was that the USSR remained a workers state, one which Trotsky declared must be defended unconditionally (though not uncritically), against imperialist attack. Trotskyists continued their unconditional defense of the USSR up until its fall in 1989.”

    Actually the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1991. More importantly, for Trotsky a key indicator that the Soviet Union was still a workers state was the fact the state continued to defend nationalised property. Whether this was the case in China in the 1990s is debatable. A large amount of state property was privatised, though some was retained in state ownership.

    Walter says: “Indeed, as one reads Chris Slee’s contribution, it’s evident that Slee is approximately 99% hostile to everything which he sees as having happened in China.”

    My view is a bit more complex than that! The 1949 revolution resulted in huge gains for the Chines people, terms of social justice, economic development, health, education, etc.

    On the other hand, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution resulted in big setbacks.

    The post-Mao period saw some beneficial reforms. But the Beijing massacre of 1989 and the subsequent privatisation drive led to an enormous setback in terms of social justice, despite rapid economic growth.

    In the last few years we have seen some modest progressive steps. How far these will go remains to be seen. If it leads to a new advance towards socialism I will be delighted, but I think it is premature to predict that.

    Chris Slee

  15. Walter Lippmann on 25 Jan 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Chris Slee re-asserts his oft-declared belief that China is a capitalist country. I posed one simple and obvious question to Chris Slee:

    “Where else in the capitalist world in today’s era of neo-liberal globalization are capitalist governments giving workers MORE rights, encouraging MORE unionization and creating NEW welfare systems to replace old ones destroyed by privatization?”

    Chris Slee has not answered this question. Readers would like an answer, please.

  16. Praba on 30 Jan 2010 at 10:14 am #

    In his original posting, Chris Slee responds to a point about the audacity of the Chinese working class over the last two decades by stating that: “It is true that the workers are fighting back against the attacks.” Slee also states that, “It is true that in recent years, particularly since about the year 2000, the government has made concessions to the workers.”

    If we examine these two statements we find that they end up contradicting Chris Slee’s incorrect assertion that China is a capitalist state.

    Firstly let us look at the “concessions” issue. It is of course true that, in an actual capitalist country, workers through struggle can win concessions from their exploiters. However, in the modern world, such concessions typically do not occur in complete isolation in one country but are shaped by major changes in the international balance of class forces. The late-1960s and early 1970s were a period when the capitalists granted concessions in many countries to pacify an emboldened working class and left. The period was shaped in part by the inspirational effect of the Vietnamese revolutionaries’ successful resistance against imperialism.

    To be sure the class struggle has different tempos in different countries. However, especially when we are talking about a long term phenomenon (and according to Slee workers have been winning “concessions” for at least 9 years in supposedly “capitalist” China ), the particular motions in particular countries are greatly pushed along by the direction of the international tide. True there can be peculiar exceptions. However, when talking about China, a country with one in five of the world’s people, it is not valid to be talking about it as an “exception”!

    If we look at China and (in Slee’s own statement) its last 9 years of “concessions” to the workers, what is happening is at complete variance with what has been happening in the capitalist world in the same period. In the capitalist countries the period since 2000 has been one of aggressive moves towards “user pays” in social services. In China instead we have seen moves back towards universal, free or affordable public health care, education, public transport and even cinemas. In the capitalist countries, we have seen draconian industrial laws that give capitalists ever more powers. In the PRC however, the new labour law that went into force in 2008 gives unions the power to veto any change in workplace conditions and makes it illegal for employers to lay off long term workers who are within five years of their retirement (even for incompetence or due to business difficulty). In the capitalist countries we have continued to see more privatisations since 2000. In the PRC we are seeing some important renationalisations. These nationalisations are not simply bailouts nor are they the government taking into public hands loss-making enterprises. Frequently they involve the state forcing profitable private firms to handover their enterprises for a price much lower than their market value – in other words these are in part “nationalisations without compensation.” For details, see for example this article from an irate finance news correspondent in Rupert Murdoch’s flagship paper in Australia:
    http://m.theaustralian.com.au/fi175932.htm

    Clearly China and the capitalist countries are running on different tracks.

    Secondly, the fact that Chinese workers have been able to win concessions since at least as far back as the year 2000 and the fact that they are in Slee’s words “fighting back” shows that the Chinese working class has not been very demoralised over the last decade. Yet any working class that suffers a major defeat is very demoralised for a considerable period of time. According to Slee the Chinese working class suffered a capitalist counterrevolution in the 1990s – the most catastrophic defeat. Yet it has not been acting like it suffered such a defeat!

    Thirdly, although the tendency which Chris Slee supports first publicly declared that China had become capitalist in the late 1990s, it was well into the 21st century declaring (like most other left groups that claim that China has become “capitalist”) that steps were occurring to move China further towards capitalism – in other words it was basing itself on the notion that the capitalist counterrevolution was then (i.e. in the 21st century) still in the process of being completed. See for example: http://www.greenleft.org.au/2006/669/6576 (please note that there is an annoying little typo in the web version of this article – and similar China articles – that puts a date line in 1993 at the head of the article. However, if you read down the article it will be clear that the article is from the May 31, 2006 issue of this newspaper). Yet if the capitalist counterrevolution is still IN THE PROCESS of being completed in the first decade of the 21st century, then how come the workers are “winning concessions” in this very same period? How come tens of millions of Chinese people are being lifted out of poverty when the supposed capitalist counterrevolution is finalising its triumph? A very strange counterrevolution indeed!

    Fourthly, in real capitalist countries when workers struggle are strong enough to win concessions from the capitalists it leads to a loss of business confidence, to lethargy from those running the economy and especially to a collapse in business investment. Why? Firstly, since making concessions to the workers by definition means reducing their rate of exploitation and therefore their rate of profit, capitalists, when forced into making concessions to the workers, have less profit from which to reinvest. Moreover, if capitalists see that their rate of exploitation is being diminished they are not going put their money into building up future production. They are not going to invest in infrastructure, new factories, updated equipment and buildings. They will either take their money to invest elsewhere or consume (as opposed to reinvest) a greater share of their profits: ie buy more designer clothes, luxury cars, first class air tickets etc. Thirdly, when workers are fighting back, especially when they are struggling with such an intensity that they can force concessions, the capitalists pull back from investment. Indeed there is nothing that makes the capitalists hold back from investment more than workers struggle. The capitalists know that industrial struggle disrupts their profits and they fear that “instability” could lead to a political environment where their assets get nationalised.

    Yet in China, in the very period when Slee says that the workers “fightback” is “winning concessions”, we are seeing the very opposite. There is great economic dynamism and massive investment. Not only is total investment (mostly by the state sector), growing spectacularly in China but it is growing as a percentage of total GDP. Please see Chart 2B in the following reference which details the total investment rate (as a % of GDP) over the last 15 years: http://cib.natixis.com/flushdoc.aspx?id=51475

    We in fact see that precisely when Slee says the workers “fightback” started “winning concessions” in China around 2000, is when the rate of investment started skyrocketing. Indeed even major “concessions” like the passing of the pro-worker Labour Law in 2007 and its introduction at the start of 2008 has not stopped the investment rate from growing. Neither has the fact that the passing of the Labour Law inspired a huge strike wave in China. In 2008 the number of labour disputes in China was 95% more than the year before. But it almost seems that the more that workers struggle and the more “concessions” that they win, the more that the people running the Chinese economy invest in future production.

    Thus, although it is true that capitalists have been allowed to make too many incursions into the PRC, the laws governing the PRC economy still have little to do with capitalism. For more details, see the following article http://web.aanet.com.au/tplatform/China.html in particular the sections titled “`Making Concessions’ and Loving It” and “Profits Plummeting? OK, Let us Expand Production!”

    I think Socialist Voice website is doing the international left a real service by hosting this discussion. The question of the class nature of the state power that holds sway in the world’s most populous country is a critical one. It is a question not of academic importance but a question that shapes what attitude socialists in the West should take to the PRC state – hostility or solidarity.

    I saw this very concretely posed on April 24, 2008 during the Australian leg of the Beijing Olympics Torch Relay in Canberra. The question of whether an Olympic torch gets through is not in itself of strategic importance but the political struggle around the torch relays was a huge political and propaganda battle between pro- and anti- PRC forces. Following on from our understanding that the PRC is a deformed workers state, the group that I sympathise with actively supported the pro-PRC demonstrators at the torch relay and in general opposed wholeheartedly the
    anti-communist “Free Tibet” propaganda campaign.

    However, in concert with their claims that China is “capitalist”, most of the Australian left supported the anti-PRC protests at the torch relay. As a result, the bourgeois media, which normally vilifies left groups, gave left groups involved in organising the anti-PRC protests a sympathetic coverage (and this from Rupert Murdoch owned papers!). The far left however made up just a fraction of the anti-PRC mobilisation. In far greater numbers were ignorant, white, small-l liberals. There were also plenty of Falun Gong people burning both the red PRC flag and the hammer and sickle Communist Party of China flag. Also dwarfing the left contingents but standing shoulder to shoulder with the left during the protests, was a big crowd of hardline Vietnamese anti-communists brandishing the defunct flag of old capitalist South Vietnam. In Australia, every anti-PRC demonstration meets with strong solidarity from Vietnamese anti-communists.

    The clash between the two sides was very heated both verbally and physically – there was lots of pushing and shoving and some scuffles. Who won? The pro-PRC demonstrators by knockout! Tens of thousands of mainly PRC international students swamped the anti-PRC forces. The PRC students brandished the communist, red PRC flag and were mainly organised by the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of the Communist Party of China. It was a fabulous victory that sent the capitalist media in Australia mad with outrage. For an eyewitness account of the events see: http://web.aanet.com.au/tplatform/index10.htm under title “From the Bright Depths of the Sea of Red.”

    However, the role of most of the left that day was tragic. Not only because they were on the wrong side but because of how much could have been achieved had they been on the right side. True the pro-PRC forces won easily even without the Australian lefts’ help. But had the far left joined in with the red flag bearing PRC students, it would have had a very positive political effect. It would have further enhanced the pro-communist aspects of the demonstration as opposed to the Chinese patriotic aspect. It would have told pro-communist, Chinese students that they are not alone and they would have gone back to China and talked much about this. In short it would have encouraged sorely needed internationalism within China. And by solidarising with a workers state, deformed and corroded as it is, Australian leftists would have achieved a greater understanding of the need to eventually establish a workers state, i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat, in Australia. I really hope that more socialists in the West can be won to the need to defend the PRC workers state.

    Please note that for space reasons I have not replied to the last point in Slee’s first posting about the factional contests within the CPC. I will reply to this and to Slee’s subsequent postings in a later posting. I hope this discussion will be able to continue here.

  17. Dimitris Fasfalis on 30 Jan 2010 at 11:13 am #

    Fred Feldman writes that China is not an imperialist state. It would be a nation oppressed by imperialism. His criticism rests on the lack of evidence in my appraisal of Chinese imperialism.

    Before showing some of the evidence, it seems to me that one of the problems in this debate over the nature of the relations between China and the rest of the world, is the fact that we are lacking today a valid theory of imperialism. Lenin, Bukharin, Luxembourg and the other figures of classical Marxism formulated their theoretical framework in historical conditions which share few similarities with the world we live in today. Even though a new theory of imperialism will necessarily have to integrate their contributions, it is non-sense in my view to claim that we have the right tools to understand the nature of imperialism at the beginning of the 21st century. Questioning the concept of imperialism in the light of today’s world appears therefore as being the corollary of the critical mode of thought necessary to any revolutionary project. In that sense, my goal is certainly not to put on the same plane Western imperialism with contemporary China’s quest for power.

    Having said that, below are some of the facts showing that far from being an imperialist superpower or an “oppressed country”, China tends to combine together the old (a Third World country) and the new (an “emerging power”). It is in fact startling to see that a country with a GDP per capita at 4 000$ (2008, World Bank figures) has imperialistic relations of the same kind as the US, whose GDP per capita stands at 48 000$.

    1. It is not the unequal terms of exchange that make China an imperialist state. It is rather the fact that its investments abroad (emanating from public or private companies) are searching to establish in some cases a control on its hosts.

    An example: a contract signed in September 2007 between the Democratic Republic of Congo and China. It gives to the latter access to mineral deposits in the eastern provinces of the RDC: 10 million tons of copper, 200 000 tons of cobalt, 372 tons of gold. In exchange, two Chinese state companies have committed to build 3 000 km of roads and railways, 31 hospitals of 150 beds each, four universities, 145 health centres. To finance this infrastructure, the China Exim Bank is lending $8.5 billion loan, and that amount could increase.

    Such economic relations are certainly “beneficial” for the African countries if we compare them with the structural adjustments of the IMF and World Bank. But aren’t they also relations of economic domination?

    Another example: the purchase of fertile land in Africa by China to secure food and bio fuel supplies. China invested $800 million in Mozambique to buy 100 000 acres of fertile land. The Chinese are not the only ones to do so: South Korea, the oil-rich Gulf states and India also invest in what The Economist calls the “great land grab” (May 23rd – 29th 2009). Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, designated these deals as a “form of neo-colonialism”.

    In both cases, we see that Chinese investments lead to control. This seems to me as being the main criterion of modern imperialism, i.e. through exports of capital. These foreign investments are quite different from the investment flows between developed countries. When foreign capital takes hold of natural resources in the developing world, it stunts the development of these countries since their integration to the world market is done through a single-crop economy. Moreover, to assure themselves of these supplies, the Chinese link themselves to the stability of the established regimes. These regimes in their turn link their destiny to a model of development obeying to the needs of external economic centres.

    This is demonstrated by the structure of commercial relations between China and the African countries. According to the 2007 figures of the WTO, Chinese exports to Africa are made up of manufactured goods 92%. As for the African exports to eastern Asia: 75% of their value comes from minerals and fossil fuels.

    2. China is ranking no. 3 in military spending in 2008 with $58 billions. The British are no. 2 with $60 billions, the US at the top with $547 billions. These figures do not prove by themselves any quest for world hegemony on the part of China, but they tend to show that it is far from being “an oppressed nation” by Western imperialism. Moreover, China is part of the powers having military cooperation agreements with many African states: military training, technical counselling and equipments.

    Such agreements have been signed with the following African states: Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroun, Nigeria, Gabon, Angola, Namibia, Kenya and South Africa. Most of these states have at the same time, like Algeria for instance, agreements with the French and the Americans as well. Even if Chinese military influence is thus limited (and even helpful to decrease the military dependence of many of these states towards the Western powers) – China’s military relations with these countries are nonetheless means to exert its influence.

    3. Does China suffer from “imperialist extortion” given the fact that it is one of the main debtors of the US? If this is true for China, then it is true for Japan. China holds in 2008 $700 billion worth of US Treasury bonds. Japan: $580 billion, the United Kingdom $350 billion. Are the Japanese and the British victims of US imperial extortion?

    4. On the 1st of January 2009, the China-Asean Free Trade Area (Cafta) went into effect. Walden Bello writes in that sense that it will more probably benefit the Chinese economy at the expense of other less advanced economies of the Asean. His conclusion is the following:

    “To sum up, despite the official propaganda, the China-Asean trade agreement that came into effect on Jan. 1, 2009, is likely to disadvantage Asean. Even with the temporary exemptions of certain from full trade liberalization, Asean would be locked into a process where the only direction that barriers to super-competitive Chinese industrial and agricultural goods will be downwards. Being one of Asean’s weaker economies, the Philippines has already seen itself driven into a massive deficit in its relations with other Asean countries under the Asean-Cept free trade scheme.”

    Moreover, the agreements of Chiang Mai (February 2003) put in place a financial cooperation between central banks in case of a financial/monetary crisis in the region. Even if this gives an independence from the IMF, this agreement also registers moves of the main financial powers of the region to exert their influence on neighbouring and less-developed countries. Among these financial powers we find China

  18. chris slee on 03 Feb 2010 at 1:42 am #

    Praba says: “In the capitalist countries the period since 2000 has been one of aggressive moves towards “user pays” in social services. In China instead we have seen moves back towards universal, free or affordable public health care, education, public transport and even cinemas.”

    These are welcome moves, but we should not forget that it was the Communist Party government that abolished affordable health care etc in the first place. China’s health care system became “one of the most commercialised in the world”, according to a very informative article by Shaoguang Wang (Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2008). http://epw.in/epw/user/issueResult.jsp

    In the 1990s the Chinese government was in many ways one of the most extreme neoliberal governments in the world. It carried out extensive privatisation and allowed the exploitation of migrant workers with no union protection and no legal rights whatsoever. The result was that China moved from being a country of relatively low inequality to above average inequality. The GINI index (a statistical measure of inequality) went from 0.16 in 1979 to 0.45 in 2001, compared to a world average of 0.40. (figures from retired researcher Sun Xuewen, quoted by Eva Cheng in Green Left Weekly no. 695, 24 January 2007. http://www.greenleft.org.au/2007/695/36092 )

    “The ranks of China’s US dollar billionaires have swelled from three to 130 in just five years”, according to the Melbourne Age’s China correspondent John Garnaut (The Age, October 14, 2009). (The fact that some of these billionaires have finished up in jail is not unique to China. The same has happened in Russia under Putin).

    Two things began to turn the situation around. Firstly, the rising level of worker and peasant resistance. Secondly, the onset of the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98 (and later the 2008 world economic crisis). These factors caused some sections of the CP leadership to question the extreme neoliberal policies, and recognise the need to maintain a fairly strong state sector and rebuild some sort of welfare state.

    Praba says: “Secondly, the fact that Chinese workers have been able to win concessions since at least as far back as the year 2000 and the fact that they are in Slee’s words “fighting back” shows that the Chinese working class has not been very demoralised over the last decade. Yet any working class that suffers a major defeat is very demoralised for a considerable period of time. According to Slee the Chinese working class suffered a capitalist counterrevolution in the 1990s – the most catastrophic defeat. Yet it has not been acting like it suffered such a defeat!”

    The time taken to recover from a defeat is not fixed. It depends on a range of national and international factors. For example, it was only a few years after the defeat of the 1905 revolution in Russia that a new wave of workers struggles began.

    Praba says: “Thirdly, although the tendency which Chris Slee supports first publicly declared that China had become capitalist in the late 1990s, it was well into the 21st century declaring (like most other left groups that claim that China has become “capitalist”) that steps were occurring to move China further towards capitalism – in other words it was basing itself on the notion that the capitalist counterrevolution was then (i.e. in the 21st century) still in the process of being completed”

    I agree that the DSP was slow to recognise the beginnings of progressive change in China after about the year 2000. Change was initially slow and contradictory, with backward steps as well as progressive measures being taken. For example, privatisation continued for some years, albeit at a reduced pace.

    Praba says: “Fourthly, in real capitalist countries when workers struggle are strong enough to win concessions from the capitalists it leads to a loss of business confidence, to lethargy from those running the economy and especially to a collapse in business investment….

    “Yet in China, in the very period when Slee says that the workers “fightback” is “winning concessions”, we are seeing the very opposite. There is great economic dynamism and massive investment.”

    In a country with a strong state sector of the economy, the government is sometimes able to simply order state-owned enterprises to invest, and state-owned banks to lend money, regardless of conditions on the world market, and regardless of the level of class struggle, etc.

    China (unlike Cuba) is in a strong position to do this. China is able to import unlimited amounts of raw materials, using the huge foreign exchange reserves built up over decades of production for the world market, and is not subject to the same very severe restrictions on technology import as Cuba.

    However a strong state sector does not necessarily prove the existence of a workers state. Iraq under Saddam Hussein had a strong state sector, but the state served the interests of the Iraqi capitalist class.

    In China in the 1990s, the state generally acted in the interests of the capitalist class. Today this is less clearly the case. The rise of worker and peasant struggles, and the rising critique of neoliberalism amongst Chinese intellectuals (including CP members), have caused the Chinese state to implement some pro-worker reforms.

    At present I still view the Chinese government as a reforming capitalist government. Its limitations are exemplified by the fact that migrant workers (a large part of the working class) are still denied legal rights in the towns where they work, and hence are able to be exploited in an exceptionally ruthless way by local and foregn capitalists, and quickly discarded when no longer needed.

    But if progressive reforms continue to deepen, I may have to reconsider.

    Praba says: “Following on from our understanding that the PRC is a deformed workers state, the group that I sympathise with actively supported the pro-PRC demonstrators at the torch relay and in general opposed wholeheartedly the anti-communist “Free Tibet” propaganda campaign.”

    The pro-China demonstrations were essentially nationalist, regardless of the color of the flags. The large size of the demonstrations reflected both the strength of Chinese nationalism and the large number of Chinese citizens (particularly students) currently in Australia.

    If the Olympics had been held in India, and if Kashmiri activists had disrupted the torch relay, there would probably have been big pro-India demonstrations in Australia, greatly outnumbering the Kashmiri protestors (given the relative numbers of Indians and Kashmiris living in Australia).

    Chinese nationalism is progressive when directed against imperialism, but reactionary when directed against oppressed groups within China such as the Tibetans and Uighurs.

    Probably consciousness among the Chinese students at the demonstrations was mixed, combining progressive anti-imperialist sentiments with incomprehension of the Tibetans’ grievances.

    Marxists should aim to educate members of the Han Chinese majority about the reasons why Tibetans and Uighurs feel oppressed, and why some of them want to break away from China and establish independent states. This is essential for voluntary unity amongst the nationalities, and is an important part of the struggle for socialism in China.


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