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Socialist Studies Pamphlet: The Reality of Chinese Capitalism

There is an idiotic theory in politics and it goes something like this. If a group of people gain control of political power and then go on to describe themselves as “socialist” and the social system of the country they govern is referred to as “socialism” then this becomes the state of affairs irrespective of the existence of class relations, private property ownership and the wages system. Likewise, if these people claim to be “Marxists” and the followers of Marx then this is also deemed to be the case about themselves and the country they rule.

To illustrate how stupid and crass this doctrine is consider the example of someone who attained political power and decreed that night is day and day is night or that 1+1=5. You would think they were one penny short of a pound. Just because someone claims to be “Socialist” and the country they rule as “Socialism” does not make it the case. In fact where you find political leaders and a government you will not find “Socialism”.

The view that political power can change society at will takes on the mantle of almost theological proportions investing the group of politicians or political leader with absolute power which they do not possess.

An example of this naive thinking can be seen in a recent article in the TIMES. Under the heading of “China plans to profit from Marx” (3/01/06), Jane Macartney, uncritically reports on the latest twists and turns of China’s ruling class. Nowhere does she criticise the Chinese governments claim to be “Marxist” or their bogus reference to China as “Socialist”. THE TIMES, like the rest of the media, wants Marx and his revolutionary ideas to be associated with dictators, dictatorship and totalitarianism.

According to Ms Macartney:

At an autumn meeting of China’s all-powerful Politburo, Hu Jintao, the President and Communist Party chief…propose(d)..a revival in Marxism for modern China. An £18 Million Marxism-Leninism academy has opened in Beijing to mark the 112th anniversary on December 26th of the birthday of Chairman Mao”.

Ms Macartney is surprised:

The relevance of Marxism may be hard to grasp with MAO'S LITTLE RED BOOK consigned to shelves of Cultural Revolution Kitsch”.

She goes on to state that the Chinese ruling class has a problem of how to reconcile the large scale nationalisation of the past with the free market of today and adds:

Few people, even in the Party, do more these days than pay lip service to communist ideology. Disillusion with, Marxist-Leninist ideals set in during Mao’s 1966-76 ultra-leftist cultural revolution…Mr Hu may have few illusions that a new Marxist-Leninist academy will send Party members rushing to read DAS KAPITAL…”

As a way of “balance” she quotes Zhang Tongxin, of the Marxist institute of the people’s University of Beijing: “Since reform a considerable number of people have forgotten China is a Socialist country”.

The fact is, China has never been a socialist country.

So, how to we dispose of such political nonsense? By applying Marxist ideas.

Is China a Socialist Country?

China is not a Socialist country. Socialism was not established by a Socialist majority through their own independent action. There has never been common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. The litmus test of production for social use does not hold in China where production for the market holds true today as it did under Mao. There is a working class in China so it is not a classless society of free men and women.

Even the capitalist media is forced to report on the condition of the working class in China.

Recently, THE INDEPENDENT (14.01.06) illustrated the conditions of the working class in China by referring to “illegal, exhausting and dangerous conditions”. It went on to discuss a report which stated that “It found an army of powerless rural immigrants toiling up to 14 hours a day, almost every day. Many were allowed just one day off and paid £50 a month for shifts that breached Chinese Law and International Labour Organisation rules”.

THE INDEPENDENT is only voicing fears that such a pool of labour puts British capitalism at a competitive disadvantage against lower Labour costs within China allowing them to produce cheaper goods on the world market. The Owners of the INDEPENDENT have no interest in the working class except as a means of exploitation and the acceptance of capitalist ideas.

But for Socialists, the existence of such anti-working class conditions, the existence of the wages system and class exploitation demonstrates, from a Marxist position, that China is Capitalist not Socialist.

In this, the working class in China have the same interests as the working class throughout the world; the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with Socialism.

And what of the capitalist class in China?

In an article, “China’s new rich learn to flaunt it”, (THE GUARDIAN, January 14 2006) we are introduced to China’s capitalist class.

Here are three of their representatives; Hang Guangyu has a fortune of £1 billion pounds from his electronic appliances business; Yan Jiehe has a fortune of £850 million from road building and Timothy Chen Tianqio is a multimillionaire from online games and internet portal..

It would be interesting to know from Zhang Tongzin of the so-called “Marxist Institute” how the capitalist class in China amassed this fortune? The question has been put to the Chinese Embassy in London with an invitation to debate the issue but nothing has been received. Dictatorships are known for their political cowardice.

Reading Capital

Ms Macartney’s snide reference to only a few members of the Chinese Communist Party rushing to read Marx’s CAPITAL can be met by question; “when did members of the CCP ever read Marx’s CAPITAL?” For if they did study Marx’s ideas, they would realise that wherever a working class is forced to sell its labour power for a wage or salary then exploitation takes place through the mechanism of the production of surplus value. And the law of value applies to Chinese capitalism as it does wherever a working class is to be found. Marx’s Labour Theory of Value is just as applicable to Chinese capitalism as it is to other capitalist countries where the value of a commodity is determined by the socially necessary abstract labour that goes into its production. They would also read of Marx’s analysis of the 19th century primitive accumulation and concentration of capital which has similar echoes to today’s China.

The 800 millions who constitute the working class in China represent a vast pool of exploitable labour. In a large country seeking to accumulate capital quickly the repercussion of cheap labour is pretty unpleasant and the rate, intensity and extent of exploitation makes being a worker in China often ugly, brutal and short. The 5000 dead miners a year, the use of children in sweat shops and the general grind of wage slavery in Chinese factories, offices and shops parallel the conditions Marx studied in 19th century Britain.

The facts of China’s development confirm Marx’s theory of history, political concept of the class struggle and the Labour theory of value. Those in China who do read Marx would appreciate what an accurate reflection his theories are of their own country’s transition from Feudalism, to a state controlled capitalism to the free market capitalism of today.

Mao, the Little Red Book and the Cultural Revolution

What of Mao and his thoughts. Are they Marxist? Not at all. They are the ramblings of a dictator, someone who wanted to retain political power at the expense of others and whose negative effect on Socialism he shares with other dictators like Lenin and Stalin. Rather than influencing history Mao was shaped by history condemned to set China along a particular route of capitalist development.

Mao emerged as the leader of the Chinese Communist party in the mid-1930. With little opportunity to win support among industrial workers, the CCP concentrated on the grievances of the peasant population. In his Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan (1927) Mao declared: “To overthrow these feudal forces is the real objective of the revolution”. The peasants offered a mass of discontent great enough to overthrow the previous regime, as well as providing a huge reservoir of labour for capitalist exploitation which carries on today.

The Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s was a period of great political and social turmoil within 20th Century China. Essentially it was an internal coup staged by a political clique surrounding Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. They wrested power from the government by establishing a rival power base. This they achieved by encouraging and manipulating students into overthrowing established authorities. All aspects of Chinese life were affected in the process; government, economic and family. The upheavals took a great personal toll on countless individuals.

Yet for all the romanticism the Cultural Revolution had for the Left in Western Europe (where are all those Maoist bookshops now?) it was merely a political struggle within the Chinese ruling class.

THE LITTLE RED BOOK is not a Marxist text and offers nothing to the advancement of Socialist ideas. It is backward looking, conservative and reactionary replacing Marx’s insistence that socialist revolution has to be the work of the working class with the elitist view that it has to be the work of professional revolutionaries personified in the dictatorship of the Communist Party and its leadership.

Nationalisation and Central Planning

There is a view, held by the TIMES and others, that central planning is a characteristic of what they call “socialism”. It is not. The centralised planning found in large capitalist corporations cannot be regarded as “socialist” as economic textbooks confirm so why is State planning of commodity production any different? The point is that under capitalism, planning, whether by the State or individual capitalist firms, comes up against the anarchy of commodity production and exchange for profit. Planning commodity production for profit is not the same as democratic planning to meet human need.

Nor is nationalisation the same as common ownership of the means of production. Nationalisation is a form of capitalism. Under nationalisation, the wages system exists, classes exist, capital exists, exploitation exists as do trade unions and the class struggle.

The Wages System and the Working Class

The reality of life in China is not determined by political leaders but by the existence of the private ownership of the means of production either through the state, individuals, foreign companies or private corporations. Capitalism is a system of society based on the class ownership of the means of production and exchange in which social wealth is produced by propertyless wage workers, to be sold on a market with a view to profit. Capitalism is a class society with a privileged minority living off the labour of the exploited majority. It exists in China as it does in Britain and America; and it did so during the period of Mao as it does under his successors.
The wages system, which operates in China as it does in all capitalist countries is a form of class rationing. The wages system restricts worker’s consumption to what he or she needs to keep themselves in efficient working order. It means that workers are deprived of the best that is available in food, clothing, housing, entertainment, travel and so on. This does not have to be the case because modern technology has the potential for abundance to meet the needs of the world’s population.

And it was Marx who urged the working class to abolish the wages system, something the Chinese Ruling class have no interest in abolishing.

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