Thursday marked the Chinese New Year, and the beginning of the year 4713, making this an appropriate time to reflect on history and tradition, and a suitable(ish) time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for a while; the politics and the economy of modern China.
The country, being the world’s most heavily populated, is home to one of the largest armies, an ever-expanding economy, and a haven of science and technology. Nowerdays, it’s even become fashionable to argue that China will soon overtake the United States in terms of power and world influence. Yet there is another side to the country, this being the political philosophy that drives its leaders: communism.
So, if it’s actually the case that China is not only experiencing great economic and military prosperity but has managed to achieve such through the means of a communist economy, is China not a perfect example of a utopian socialist society?
If you’ve been reading my comments on China in previous entries, you’ll know that the answer is, in my opinion, no. Finally, I have the oppertunity to explain why…
To start with, let’s look to the Chinese revolution, an act that would transform the country and the world, changing the shape of East Asia dramatically. The second independent communist state followed a similar path to Russia, its northerly neighbour: First the monarchy was overthrown by popular revolt (the Boxer Rebellion, or, in Russia’s case, the February Revolution), then the bourgeois by communist takeover (the Revolution of 1949, or the October Revolution) all with the help of an invasion from another imperialist country (Japan, or Germany) in the midst of an international war (World War Two, or World War One). Soon after, strict economic policies (the Great Leap Forward, or the Five Year Plans) were to be introduced, which would transform the economically-backward peasant nations into giant industrial powers, at the cost of millions of lives. After the result was achieved and the chaos healed, relaxations in the policy followed, (the thaw under Deng Xiaoping or Nikita Khrushchev), and the two nations progressed respectively from then onwards. One major difference exists between Sino and Soviet communism, however: the latter collapsed whilst the former did not.
As I stated in my last entry, the period of thaw under Khrushchev gradually saw the withering away of the socialist state, setting the Soviet Union on a one-way road to its eventual dissolution. Strict economic regulations appeared to thaw after Mao’s death, too, yet these reforms didn’t lead the state to its downfall, only to the adoption of very relaxed, market-orientated policies, allowing China to succumb to what can only be described as ‘sort-of socialism’. In other words, unlike the USSR, which collapsed honestly, openly rejecting the philosophy it was founded upon, communist China retained its superficial character whilst the regime suffered internal destruction. To understand what this actually means for the Chinese people, we must examine conditions in China today, sixty-six years after the People’s Republic of China was declared, under the leadership of Xi Jinping…
The initial problem ‘sort-of socialism’ presents in the case of China is the fact that the socialist state is really nothing but an emerging capitalist one. Today, China is home to HSBC, Sinopec Limited, and many other brands, corporations and features we would regard as a central or vital aspect of the capitalist world. Whilst ‘Made in China’ may remain printed on the majority of everyday accessories, ‘Designed in China’ is becoming an equally suitable one. It’s evident that, from what Xiaoping referred to as ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’, corporate empires have emerged, and thus the Chinese bourgeois, a class to whose elimination Mao dedicated his life, have been reborn.
It’s not only the owners of production, however, that profit from the situation, for China has a severe problem in deciding who, as a nation, it works for – the liberal, capitalist west may frown upon their record of human rights abuses, yet it’s this region of the world which exploits the labourers of nations such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and, unfortunately, China too; many workers produce iPads, iPhones, and iPods for little wages and long hours, under a government claiming the moral stance when it comes to justice for the proletariat, and a merciless stance when it comes to capitalist exploitation. In the country whose underdogs fought a bloody war to have their voices heard in the name of communism, children toil in factories which have begun the process of installing giant nets outside the buildings to prevent successful suicide attempts, and in which workers are paid $1.50 per hour.
Astonishingly, the aspect of the Chinese society which still exists according to socialist principles, the communist leadership, simply allows both atrocities to occur. The Chinese Communist Party is perfectly capable of writing these wrongs; if he chose to, I’m completely confident that Xi Jingping could rid his nation of the such oppression, and ensure that no factory worker was ever subject to the demands of international ones again. If they were truly devoted to the cause, I don’t doubt that the party could even ensure a consistent, sufficient income for even the hardest-hit labourers.
Perhaps the thorough transformation of the Chinese economy akin to that of the Great Leap Forward would not be possible, or not without another several million deaths for the authors of the Black Book of Communism, and all their sympathetic readers to wave in the face of Karl Marx and all his. After all, modern-day China has evolved this way, and their system of governance has moulded as a capitalist one, and therefore I’d argue that communism could no longer be reached without proletarian revolution. However, if the CCP wished to eliminate child labour of any sorts, or to ensure justice for the workers who toil in the factories producing products to be sold globally, I’m confident that this would happen. Businesses would lose out in this scenario; China’s economy may shrink; the western corporations (whom the Communist Party undoubtedly claim to despise in the first place) would lose a chunk of their
colonial overseas supply of workers, yet China could try and occupy a marginally-better position on the international scale of morality.
We must keep in mind remember that Mao Tse-Tung, or Chairman Mao fought long and civil war, introducing ruthless policies to combat counter-revolutionaries, and revolutionised the Chinese economy for a reason. I do not necessarily support such actions, and nor do I defending them, but if Mao was alive today, I’d be intrigued to see what he thought of modern-day PRC. Would he tolerate the exploitation currently in existence? Frankly, I can’t imagine him doing so. I’d like to that that if nothing else, under Mao, the achievement of a proletarian dictatorship would have been wholeheartedly attempted.
Yet, as many critisize Mao as authoritarian, it’s important not to be deceived by the idea of a thawing China, for whilst Mao’s legacy may have come to an end, authoritarianism, or perhaps even totalitarianism, has certainly not. The period of thaw consisted of an ever-expanding economy’s construction, or, in other words, the destruction of the socialist one Mao tried to achieve during the Great Leap Forward, yet politically, China remains a highly-censored and autocratic state. You only have to take a look at the persecution of those who practice Falun-Gong (a form of yoga) – something that would appear entirely unrelated to communism, capitalism, or any issue which may concern the CPC -, to be sure of the degree to which the Chinese people are tyrannised.
This is the reason as to why I believe the People’s Republic of China is an embarrassment to socialism: it appears that the climate has been altered in one major way since Mao’s leadership. That is to say that on the issue of achieving a true, communist society, the state appears to have given up trying, leaving a country in which only the red flag, the party logo, and the second ‘C’ in the party’s name indicate a socialist society. Despite this, however, it is clear that the autocratic bureaucracy has not shifted with the economic climate, leaving nothing more than an authoritarian and tyrannical state which, whilst claiming a party name so untrue it would almost appear sarcastic, governs a country under the shackles of the new bourgeois, leaving China with the worst of both worlds. Top put this into context, In Russia, ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ soon gave way to regular dictatorship. In China, on the other hand, the former has managed to transform itself into ‘Dictatorship of the Bureaucrats and Those who Happened to Benefit From Various Relaxations of Economic Policies, Partially Responsible (Alongside Foreign Exploitation Which the State Appears to Condone) for the Exploitation of the Chinese Workers.
So there you have it. ‘Sort-of socialism’ is simply capitalism under the existance of an autocratic regime. No matter how hard they try, the Chinese Communist Party cannot justify their actions, or not, at least, in the name of communism. China’s political history, from Mao Tse-Tung to Xi Jinping is a history of injustice, tyranny and, despite the great industrial and technological advancements the country has made, failure.
The photograph depicting factory labourers was provided by Robert Scoble from Wikimedia Commons. Below is a link for the photograph (first) and its licence (second):