The Problem with China
Before I begin this post, I want to head off some possible criticisms, nip em in the bud, to use the common parlance. I am not promoting the US, Japan, the EU or any capitalist run system over that of China. I am not, I repeat, NOT advocating various forms of nationalist and imperialist aggression, I am simply highlighting a problem I see on the left, everywhere, and particularly in the case of China. I also want to highlight the fact that I am not an expert, I am a student, and I am still struggling with a variety of positions that I have been considering. This is meant to spark dialog, to incite discussion, and to provoke thought. Please join the conversation in the comments section below, and feel free to criticize my position on this, and really anything. If you feel I am wrong, and you want to challenge me on it, please do so, but come prepared with documentation, and sound reasoning. And since every discussion of nationalism or China is bound to cause tempers to get a little heated, please keep this a civil discussion. Attack ideas, not people. At least in this case. Now, without further ado, the question at hand.
Is China Socialist?
I understand why many revolutionary communists support the government of China. I really do. However, I feel that there is a growing current of communist thought which discourages any criticisms of China and its program, and the government that runs it. Being one of the few “socialist” countries in the world, many wish to protect the legacy of the Chinese proletarian revolution, and further the cause of socialism in the world. The problem I see, is that this is self defeating. As scientific socialists, as scholars, we should be held to a high standard of intellectual honesty. The name of a political party is not as important as the real material conditions on the ground. It doesn’t matter if the flag over them is red, yellow, blue or green. It matters how the division of labor is carried out, who is benefiting from the state, and who is running the country. When we examine China closely, we see that there have been deep and systemic problems in its model from the very start. To answer our question of whether or not China is socialist, we need to look at China’s history, and see the basis for the modern state of China, and where it is headed.
A Great Revolution
China was once called “The sick man of Asia”. It was dogged by imperialist aggression during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and under the weak and corrupt imperial government of China, it let the Western powers walk all over it. There were signs in Shanghai that read “No Chinese or dogs allowed.” China was humiliated, abused and exploited. Without going into a detailed history of China (you can study that in your own time comrades) let me just say that what China was subjected to under imperialist aggression is despicable and disgusting. The British forced opium on the people, the Americans enjoyed extraterritoriality, as did many Western powers, and China was being carved up like a Christmas ham to please the palates of the capitalists and aristocrats of the capitalist powers. The government of China was powerless to stop them. Japan also took part in this aggression, taking Chinese land and humiliating the Chinese in war and in the peace treaty that followed. (See the Treaty of Shimonoseki for more information) Japan would eventually even go as far as to massacre thousands in Nanking, and take possession of Manchuria, establishing a puppet regime there called Manchukko. What happened to China is wrong, what the imperialist did is wrong, and that can be said without reserve or any caveats.
Long story short, the Communists, led by Mao Zedong eventually helped to defeat the Japanese, and then defeated the KMT nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek. On the 1st of October, 1949, Mao declared the People’s Republic of China as a sovereign state. It was a huge victory for the people of China, and they regained their pride as a people, as a nation. Eventually even the Western powers acknowledged the rightful government of China as being in Beijing, not Taipei, and China then embarked on economic expansion that allowed it to raise millions out of poverty, and establish itself as world power. (I realize that this is a very short version of China’s modern history, please don’t think I’m trying to be comprehensive here)
The problem is that China today has lost much of its connection to the revolution that culminated in a communist victory, and it has abandoned many of the original goals and methods of the revolution. Let’s look at some facts about China. Is it a socialist country? We will tell by the material conditions of the Chinese people, not by the mere claims of the government of China.
International corporations have been allowed to run rampant in China, fearlessly and blatantly exploiting the Chinese people. Horrible working conditions, low pay and heavy handed control tactics have combined to create a multitude of problems that only benefits China’s ruling class. Foxconn comes to mind. China has allowed, for the benefit of the government, horrible terrible abuses of the Chinese people. These abuses include dangerous working conditions, long working hours with little or no overtime pay, suicides, and much much more. This benefits such companies as Motorola, Apple, Amazon.com and others. This kind of worker abuse is being allowed in China, and protests against it are squashed by the government.
The same people who protest angrily against the violations of civil liberties in the US and Europe, are the same ones who ignore horrible human rights abuses in China. Unfair trials, massive use of the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes, censorship of radio, TV, the internet and newspapers and every other possible medium, China is not upholding the rights of human beings in their country. The suppression of the people means that they are losing the support of the people, and are undermining the validity of the revolution they claim to be continuing. (Once again, before I get inundated with “the US does it too” note that I don’t consider the US a socialist country either.) You cannot claim to be the voice of the people, when you crush protests, throw political opponents in prison, censor all media that dares criticize the actions of the government and kills thousands of Chinese citizens every year. That is not the work of socialism.
The rulers of the Chinese communist party have established themselves as the bourgeoisie in China. They have allowed capitalism to spring up, they have ignored the contradictions in their ideology, and they are building the fall of the people’s republic. They have established a state capitalist form of economics, and one that has abused and betrayed millions of Chinese. The Chinese communist party has become a end unto itself, for its own power. There is no accountability, there is no transparency, there is no democracy, and it is NOT a socialist country. It once was, it once had the promise of socialism, but has now thrown that out the window. It has sold its soul for entrance to the WTO and the capitalist club, and it cares not about the material conditions of the Chinese people.
I am fully aware that I am going to catch hell from some of my comrades for expressing this opinion. I fully understand that some think that it is more important to support China,than criticize it. However, if we cannot criticize, we cannot think, and if we cannot think, then why are we communists at all?
Communism must be democratic, it must uphold economic equality, it must uphold the people as the ruler, not a government that is beyond criticism. We will not achieve communism by handing over the lives of our people to corporations, but by handing over the means of production to the working class. I will not continue to support the Chinese government. It silences dissent from the left, those who dare to push for economic equality and rights for workers are silenced, that is not socialism. China has become a country that is ruled by those who are communists in name only. If we cannot admit that China is no longer socialist, if we cannot think critically about China, then we should just throw in the towel now. China is ruled by the bourgeoisie of China. Party members who run state corporations are becoming millionaires at the expense of the workers. This must not stand. China needs to change course, it needs to acknowledge these problems, instead of diverting attention by attacking its neighbors with territorial claims and stoking nationalist hysteria. China has already fallen to capitalism. It is not upholding socialism. If we are to be communists, we must be honest.
In conclusion, China is not socialist. It is not democratic. It is not free. It is not what it purports itself to be. Until the working class is truly in control of the government, and the means of production, it is not a socialist country. State ownership in and of itself is meaningless. What matters is who runs the state, and who benefits from that ownership. What do you think? Is China a socialist country? Am I overreacting? Bring your argument. Let’s talk about this.