China is in deep trouble. Its zero-COVID policy has failed; the economy has slowed to a halt; it now has a falling and fast-ageing population; it is in the midst of a property and debt crisis; so it is heading for a permanent, low productivity growth stagnation like Japan. Xi’s leadership is in crisis as he flails about swinging from one policy to another. And the risk is that the ‘aggressive nationalism’ of the CPC will lead to military action against ‘democratic’ Taiwan, just as Russia did with Ukraine.
That’s the line of the Western economic experts and the media on a daily basis. All these arguments have been raised before and for that matter for the last 20-plus years: namely, that China is about to implode and the CP-control is about to collapse. I have provided balanced answers to all these issues many times before, in particular in a series of three posts only last October. So what can I add to the latest round of ‘expert’ speculation on the future of the Chinese economic model’?
Well, the first obvious addition is the end of China’s zero-Covid policy. The experts paint this as a failure of the previous policy of the last three years. And yet in those three years, millions of lives were saved. John Ross gives us a comparison: if the world per capita death rate from Covid had been kept as low as China’s there would only be 29,000 Covid deaths globally instead of 6.7 million, while in the US there would have been only 1,200 deaths instead of the 1.1 million which actually occurred. So great is the impact of this US failure that after the pandemic China’s life expectancy, at 78.2 years, is now significantly higher than the US at 76.4 years.
At the same time, China did not slip into a slump in 2020 unlike every other major economy; and indeed, increased the size of its economy in real terms and raised average living standards, while most major capitalist economies are only now getting back to the level of pre-pandemic 2019, as they now experience a dismal cost of living crisis.
The zero-COVID policy was clearly exhausted by the end of 2022. New COVID variants were spreading and the government had to give way on the policy – but at least by now the majority of the population had been vaccinated and the health service capacity raised – if still insufficient to deal with the rise in infections. Deaths are up, but not anywhere near the level projected by Western experts. I explained this in a recent post. We shall see if the rise in cases accelerates during the Chinese New Year holiday starting now.
The media are making much of the fact that for the first time since the 1990s, China’s real GDP growth this year was lower than the average growth in the East Asian region. In 2022, real GDP was up only 3%, well below the long-term target of about 5-6% a year.
Why the slowdown? Clearly over the last three years, China’s zero COVID policy played a role in suppressing economic activity. But China opted to save lives over economic expansion. The other reason that China’s economic growth has slipped is the general slowdown towards a slump in the rest of the world. The major capitalist economies are stuck in supply-chain congestion, weak investment expansion and now rising interest rates and inflation that threaten outright global recession this year.
But China is not heading into a slump like the G7 economies. Indeed, both the World Bank and the IMF expect China’s real GDP to rise by over 4% this year, while the most G7 economies will be contracting or have near zero growth. If we take the years 2019-23, China’s economic growth rate will have been at least three times as fast as the US and more than five times as fast as the EU – and that’s assuming no slump in the latter economies this year.
Looking longer term, Western analysts reckon China is heading for much slower growth and this will threaten Xi’s future. Up to now, China’s unprecedented economic growth record has been based on high investment rates and exports of manufactured goods to the rest of the world. But from hereon, the Western analysts claim that China will enter a period of low growth and will not escape the ‘middle income trap’ that so many so-called emerging economies are locked into. China will not catch up even with the GDP level of the US as previously expected.
This claim is based on two assumptions. First, that China’s ageing population and declining working-age sector will reduce growth rates; and second that the high-saving, high-investment model of Chinese growth no longer works. China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced that the total population fell by 850,000 in 2022 to 1.41175bn, the first decline in 60 years. The birth rate in 2022 was the lowest since records began more than seven decades ago — 6.77 births for every 1,000 people, down from 10.41 in 2019.
The UN has projected that China’s population will fall to 1.31bn by 2050 and 767mn by the end of the century. The 2050 estimate would still make China 3.5 times larger than the US, which is projected to have 375mn people by then. But it is currently 4.7 times larger than the US. The UN’s 2022 estimates also project that India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation this year. India’s population currently stands at 1.4066bn. But what’s missing from that stat is that India will remain a predominantly rural agricultural population way behind China, now mainly an urbanized and industrialised people.
Nevertheless, the Western experts continue to make much of Chna’s demographics. “This is a truly historic turning point, an onset of a long-term and irreversible population decline,” claimed one Western-based expert on Chinese demographic change, Wang Feng, at the University of California, Irvine. “China cannot rely on the demographic dividend as a structural driver for economic growth,” said Zhiwei Zhang, president and chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management. The argument goes that China won’t be able to grow as fast as before now that the working population is declining and there will be an insufficient rise in the productivity of labour to compensate. I have discussed these arguments at length in previous posts.
The arguments are weak and faulty. Indeed, even on the adjusted (A) Western (Conference Board) measures of labour productivity growth during the COVID period, China has done way better than the ‘dynamic’ USA.
The answer to the demographic decline is a rise in the productivity of the existing workforce. And China is taking steps to ensure just that. China is the leader in industrial robots with a rise from 69,000 units in 2015 to 300,000 units last year; although of course, it is still well behind on robots per person – yet ahead of France, the UK and Canada before the pandemic.
Longer term, the IMF forecasts that China will grow at a subdued rate of 5% a year. But that rate would still be more than twice as fast as the US, and more than four times as fast as the rest of the G7 – and that’s assuming no slump in the G7 economies in the next five years.
The other argument of the Western analysts is that China cannot grow at any reasonable pace from hereon, unless it switches from a high-savings, high-investment, export-oriented economy to a traditional consumer-led capitalist economy existing in most of the major capitalist economies, particularly the US and the UK.
The usual basis for this view is that personal consumption rates are too low in China and this will hold back demand-led growth. For example, take this view by Chen Zhiwu, a professor in Chinese finance and economy at the University of Hong Kong. Chen argues that, under Xi, major reforms towards a larger private sector, consumer-led economy have been sidelined. “The 60 reforms would have largely expanded the role of consumption and private initiatives,” he says. “However, the market-oriented reform agenda has been largely sidelined . . . resulting in a larger role for the state and a shrunken role for the private sector.” According to Chen, this will mean China’s economy will stagnate from hereon.
Another prominent and widely-followed Western analyst, Michael Pettis, who is based in Shanghai, makes a similar argument, namely that what will push China into Japanese-style stagnation is the failure to expand personal consumption and continue to expand investment through rising debt. And only this week Keynesian guru Paul Krugman joined the chorus, talking of China’s “wildly unbalanced” economy, which Krugman claims: “For reasons I don’t fully understand, policymakers have been reluctant to allow the full benefits of past economic growth to pass through to households, and that has led to low consumer demand.”
Unfortunately, sections of the Chinese leadership, particularly their economists in the finance sector, accept this annoyingly stupid argument from the Western experts. How can anybody claim that the mature ‘consumer-led’ economies of the G7 have been successful in achieving steady and fast economic growth, or that real wages and consumption growth have been stronger there? Indeed, in the G7 consumption has failed to drive economic growth; and wages have stagnated in real terms over the last ten years (and are now falling), while real wages in China have shot up.
This is the real point. Actually, consumption is rising much faster in China than in the G7 and that’s because investment is higher. One follows the other; it is not a zero-sum game. Pettis’ view is a crude Keynesian analysis that ignores even Keynes’ view himself that it is investment that grows an economy with consumption following, not vice versa.
And not all consumption has to be ‘personal’; more important is ‘social consumption’, that is, public services like health, education, transport, communications and housing; not just motor cars and gadgets. Increased consumption of basic social services is not accounted for in the personal consumption ratios.
China has a long way to go in social consumption too, but it is way ahead of its emerging market peers in many social areas and not so far behind leading G7 economies, who started more than 100 years before. I defer to Citibank’s economists in their recent in-depth study of the Chinese economy “In other words, it is quite possible for the Chinese economy to deliver greater opportunities for consumption without consumption being a specific target for policy: household disposable income has been growing faster than GDP in the real terms in the past few years (except 2016), a trend likely to extend into the future. At the same time, the unlocking of wealth effects should help the consumer.”
The real challenge for China’s economic future is how to avoid much of its investment going into unproductive areas like finance and property that have now led to serious problems. And also, in what way the growing contradictions between the state and capitalist sectors in China are being handled in Xi’s third term.
And on this issue, it is China’s large capitalist sector that threatens China’s future prosperity. The real problem is that in the last ten years (and even before) the Chinese leaders have allowed a massive expansion of unproductive and speculative investment by the capitalist sector of the economy. In the drive to build enough houses and infrastructure for the sharply rising urban population, central and local governments left the job to private developers. Instead of building houses for rent, they opted for the ‘free market’ solution of private developers building for sale. Of course, homes needed to be built, but as President Xi put it belatedly, “homes are for living in, not for speculation.”
Indeed Xi’s call for ‘common prosperity’ is a recognition that the capitalist sector fostered by the Chinese leaders (and from which they obtain much personal gain), has got so out of hand that it threatens the stability of Communist Party control. What Xi and the Chinese leaders have called the “disorderly expansion of capital”. The capitalist sector has been increasing its size and influence in China, alongside the slowdown in real GDP growth, investment and employment, even under Xi. A recent study found that China’s private sector has grown not only in absolute terms but also as a proportion of the country’s largest companies, as measured by revenue or (for listed ones) by market value, from a very low level when President Xi was confirmed as the next top leader in 2010 to a significant share today. SOEs still dominate among the largest companies by revenue, but their preeminence is eroding. This is intensifying the contradictions between the profitability of the capitalist sector and stable productive investment in China. The accumulation of financial and property assets based on huge borrowing is detracting from growth potential.
The other problem is the democratic accountability of the Chinese government. China’s leadership is not accountable to its working people; there are no organs of worker democracy. There is no democratic planning. Only the 100 million CP members have a say in China’s economic future, and that is really only among the top. As a result, the CP leaders lurch from periods of expanding the private sector and the market to periods of trying to restrict and control it. Chinese workers are pawns in this game.
Branco Milanovic in a recent post recognized this, in what he called the attempt of the CP leaders to maintain ‘a middle line’, by favoring alternately pro-leftist and pro-rightist policies. Xi has been following the former up to now, but now there are signs than the government wants to swing back towards pro-market policies to conciliate with Western interests, as US imperialism and its allies step up their policy of containment over China.
And indicator of the latest zig zag is found in Vice-Premier Liu He’s attendance at the jamboree of the rich in Davos, Switzerland. Li told the Davos audience that Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” initiative is “definitely not to introduce equalitarianism nor welfarism.” Liu said the main point of the strategy is to avoid polarization, while admitting a certain level of income and wealth disparity is inevitable. “What we want to emphasize is that it is about equality of opportunity and not equality in results,” the vice premier said, sounding like a good pro-capitalist Western politician.
Li privately met a group of top corporate executives in Davos to tell them that the world’s second-largest economy was back, in an effort to rekindle economic ties damaged by the pandemic and tensions with the US. He told them that “Some people say China is trying to move toward a planned economy, but that is absolutely not possible.” The conclusion of the corporate leaders was that “They are reversing everything that has been done in the last three years; they will be business-friendly and [know] that the economy cannot be successful without the private sector.”
It is now crystal clear that the US, enabled by a bipartisan consensus in Washington, is determined to stop China upgrading technologically. China is now treated as “an enemy” of the US. Without the involvement, backing and control of workers organisations, the Chinese CP government is leaving itself open to imperialist encirclement. So the zig zags of CPC policy are wasteful, inefficient and dangerous to China’s future.
72 thoughts on “China: zig zagging”
It was announced yesterday that the investments in infrastructure would continue:
“China to allocate more funding to support key new basic infrastructure projects” — https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202301/1284018.shtml
I would not pay so much attention to what Liu He said at Davos. To thread carefully in an overwhelming capitalist world and exploit the inner contradictions within the capitalist class are standard practice among socialist countries since the very foundation of the USSR. Also, He technically didn’t lie, as a fully planned economy is only theoretically possible in a socialist world, not in a socialist country.
But the key here is to understand Liu He is trying to gain time: there is a growing faction in the USA elite that wants a hot war against China right now, before it is too late for the USA to catch up. Peace and therefore time is on China’s favor. By telling those Davos capitalists what they want to hear, He is driving a wedge in the revolving doors of Washington, D.C. A “zig-zag” may be bad, but an open war against the USA is worse: first, because you have to win the war; second, because, even if you win the war, you have to have time and conditions to rebuild on a superior stage of the development of the productive forces. The Chinese know the price the USSR had to pay with WWII.
The private sector in China is growing, but the situation is still controllable. If people think China is close to a capitalist restoration now, they would despair with the USSR during NEP. If the USSR was able to reverse the trend after NEP, China absolutely can reverse the trend now. As an example, see the case of Jack Ma, who was easily neutralized (to the dismay of the Western punditry, which called for an innovation apocalypse in China); it is now speculated Jack Ma fled to Japan.
Direct workers democracy is obviously desirable, but, at the present stage of the development of the productive forces, it is impossible. The key here is that China, big as it is, is still just a small island in a much vaster capitalist world. The dominant ideology is always the ideology of the dominant class, and we live in a capitalist dominated world.
We have examples of failed direct workers democracy: the USSR during its first seven months of existence (1917-1918) was a fully libertarian socialist nation, every plot of land being distributed as the peasant class wished and each factory being administered as the proletarians wished. It was a disaster: in practice, what happened was that the proletarians preferred to run the factory to the ground and the peasants chose to go back to the stone age, getting a very small plot of land to cultivate just for himself. Productivity plummeted, and the whole thing just didn’t disintegrate because the Civil War gave the Bolsheviks political legitimacy to stop the process and implement War Communism.
Free elections for the soviets were tried until 1929 (i.e. until well after Lenin’s death and Trotsky’s defeat). They were an absolute failure: turn out was abysmal, rarely surpassing 25% of the voters; the kulaks bought the votes and elected themselves frequently; women were virtually absent because they were all illiterate. In most places, there was an absolute lack of literate people to execute the process outright.
The Supreme Soviet was another failure. It only exerted absolute power one time, in which it took on single decision: the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. It almost destroyed the USSR, which was only saved because Lenin himself used all of his influence and prestige to make it take the objectively correct decision (i.e. to make peace with the Germans). No wonder that it was never allowed anywhere near real power after that.
The lesson of the early USSR makes the problem of direct workers democracy very evident: first socialist must lay its material base, to only then start to build its superstructure. As long as the working class is susceptible to the lures of the capitalist ideologies, it will always incur the risk of a restoration of capitalism through elections. It is only after capitalism is not even in the realm of the average person’s imagination that a full-fledged, unconditional workers direct democracy of every aspect of a socialist society is viable.
As long as Western ideology and education continue to exert a significant influence over the Chinese people, workers’ direct democracy is not only impossible (because those workers will democratically vote against their own class interests, i.e. they will vote for the restoration of capitalism), but a political suicide. That’s why the working classes of the capitalist world must first do the revolution in their respective countries. Only then they will have the legitimacy to ask China to implement a workers’ democracy.
While the capitalist world’s working classes continue to behave and act as capitalism’s auxiliary forces, China should never take any of the West’s poisoned “advice”. The working classes of the capitalist world should bark less and bite more in their own countries if they want to get to the level to talk to the Chinese communists as equals.
References or data please to support:
” in practice, what happened was that the proletarians preferred to run the factory to the ground and the peasants chose to go back to the stone age, getting a very small plot of land to cultivate just for himself.”
and other claims made in this post.
Recommend reading Edward H. Carr’s “A History of Soviet Russia” (the 14 volume version, not the abridged, single volume version titled “… from Lenin to Stalin”). The short-lived libertarian era (first months of the Revolution) is in the first volumes.
Free elections for the Soviets seem to have been very much like free election of officers in the US Civil War. Under the pressure of necessity, namely competence, and the increasing prestige of the competent officers, appointment became the de facto norm. It increasingly seemed the Party member was the best candidate.
The sharp decline in industrial production was the cause of pleas from workers to the new Bolshevik government to socialize the factories, as I understand it. Essentially, huge numbers of managers—-people who do some essential work besides keeping control for the owners—followed their masters on strike. It was not the decree that lowered the production. The firm belief in the possibility of industrial sabotage that played a role in the mass repressions seem to have been solidly founded on a horrible experience.
Small plots do tend to produce smaller marketable surpluses. Incorporating the SF program and dividing the estates did decrease those exports (which is what is usually meant by decreasing productivity.) The same appears to have happened in Poland after WWII, where small farmers were shielded, even to the point of squeezing urban workers by raising meat prices.
The notion that the “capitalist world’s working classes continue to behave and act as capitalism’s auxiliary forces” seems to me to rely on a hostile misinterpretation of how bourgeois democracy works.
Common prosperity: ‘(Vice premier) Liu He also explained that Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” initiative is “definitely not to introduce equalitarianism nor welfarism.” Liu said the main point of the strategy is to avoid polarization, while admitting a certain level of income and wealth disparity is inevitable. “What we want to emphasize is that it is about equality of opportunity and not equality in results,” the vice premier said.’
asia.nikkei . com/Spotlight/Davos-2023/Davos-China-s-Liu-He-entices-investment-amid-historic-slow-growth
COVID: John Ross’s statistical comparisons of deaths use the blatantly false numbers from the government. The government had almost two years to prepare for an exit from the strict lockdowns, which were effective … until they turned into endless, gruesome self-parody. Almost two years, because that is when vaccines became available. They made it possible to relax the imprisonment in homes and awful quarantine facilities. The government had time to get people vaccinated and used to boosters, with measures no more autocratic than the lockdown enforcement. But it wasted time, and then late last year was compelled to do a flip-flop, leading to “60,000 deaths,” a number minimized from the truth by a ratio of five or ten times.
One reason for the waste of time not preparing to wind down the lockdown regime: business interests arose around manufacturing and administering frequent COVID tests. Also, the white-suited personnel who enforced tests and quarantines want some new employment when they are no longer needed as enforcers. Whether you call that capitalism or “market socialism,” it is not socialism.
So again, the use of the mirage that the PRC has both capitalist and socialist sectors does not jibe with the facts. the PRC has a capitalist sector of state-owned firms and a private capitalist sector.
Charles, “common prosperity” ought only mean the eradication of poverty, eg by a Job Guarantee, as proposed in MMT.
And of course, provision of public housing. alongside private housing.
Arguing over the differences between ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘equality of outcome’ is a red herring and a diversion., regardless of capitalist or socialist means of production.
Hello Roberts and readers, today, i have a question:
How does Marx or Marxist economics define production? A compound of appropriation and distribution as Alfred Marshall asserts or formation of riches as the french last physiocrat paints. The labor theory of value relies on cost of production and seems much of a core of beforementioned economics
Clarity is welcome.
It (China) is heading for war with India.
Those who delude themselves into perceiving a conflict between a socialist faction and a capitalist faction are identifying what is in fact the struggle between the comprador bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie, the former consisting of the financial sectors and those party members with ties to US companies( plus their intellectual hirelings in universities and business schools), who demand more opening up the further to enrich themselves. The state with Xi at the apex is obliged to limit the extremes of this or that capitalist entity in order to safeguard the whole edifice of bourgeois society.:Thus the crackdown on corruption and the injunctions against flaunting one’s wealth. The Emperor Augustus did the same, and here we are after 2000 years having made no progress!
Professors in universities and business schools are not the bourgeoisie in the US or any other capitalist country, they are employee. An economist who works for a City firm is not a member of the English bourgeoisie.
And, the distinction between national and comprador bourgeoisie in general is a very difficult one to make. It seems to be as difficult as distinguishing rich, middle and poor peasant. Or distinguishing the aristocracy labor or labor lieutenants of capital from petty bourgeois on the one hand or workers on the other.
I am afraid you refuse to comprehend that capitalist relations of production cannot be reduced to the private command of capital. US universities invest heavily in capitalist enterprises and the stock market. Harvard University made a fortune from its role in restoring capitalism in Russia. What is a capitalist? For you it is an individual who possesses private capital i.e. a purely juridical definition .Now the last time I checked the biggest shareholder in Shell owned 0.5% of its shares. marx explains that the capitalist is the bearer of the capitalist relationship, i.e. that relationship of dominance and servitude within which surplus labour is pumped from the direct producers.. In the modern capitalist company the capitalists are the Boards of Directors, those who wield the power to decide investment, distribution of profits, remuneration etc.Further, how many professors and City economists own shares? According to your arguments such ownership makes them partial capitalists, as receiving surplus value created by others.
As for peasants, I recall that Mao differentiated them in ”The Analysis of Classes in Chinese Societies”!
“…comprador bourgeoisie… consisting of the financial sectors and those party members with ties to US companies( plus their intellectual hirelings in universities and business schools)…” I thought your meaning was clear. Yes, the more income from property a family receives, the more bourgeois it is. That’s one way of saying that there is a petty bourgeoisie, which wavers in its fealty to the haute bourgeoisie. Your implicit claim that workers’ pension funds when invested in the stock market makes them capitalists is rejected. Home ownership and such privileges as mortgage interest deduction however blurs the lines somewhat, which is why concepts like aristocracy of labor provoke a compelling interest. How much income and how much property matters, which is why people like Mao would differentiate among strata of the peasantry in the first place. It is entirely unclear why similar differentiation among the bureaucracy is not a primary task. This is especially true since a bureaucracy is formally a hierarchy!
As I recall there is a brief exchange between David Ricardo, the intellectual champion of industrial capitalists and finance, and Thomas Malthus, the clergyman champion of the old landlord class, where they congratulated themselves on defying their personal interests. Ricardo had bought land, while Malthus owned no significant amount. It’s never been clear to me however that ideology was strictly a matter of one’s bank balance. It was the experience of a life I thought. And Ricardo was a banker while Malthus was a preacher of submission to the old order. I thought both were excellent examples of how their way of life tended to determine ideological affiliation, not the opposite. Your views seem to me much more like these gentlemen’s narrow focus.
As for the “relationship of dominance and servitude within which surplus labour is pumped from the direct producers.. ” in a bourgeois democracy the power that dominates and enforces the servitude is ultimately due to the state, which daily exercises that power in accordance with the laws of property. Juridical relations are relations of power too
Depressing that you cannot appreciate that a bourgeois state requires an ideological apparatus. What are all those think-tanks for? Yes, the members are employees, in fact intellectual hirelings. Whom are they hired by? When you are a hired intellect you have not only become the intellectual slave of your masters, but have prostituted your very soul!
Employees are not bosses. They are not even partners.
So the CEO’s of large companies are mere employees. who then are the bosses?
As for the Chinese demographic decline, I think it would be a problem if it was only happening in China, or if the decline was exceptionally higher than in the capitalist countries. As it stands today, it is just a global trend: birth rates are plummeting everywhere, even in Third World countries (even in India).
I assume this capitalist obsession with China’s population comes from two sources: the far-rightist natural obsession with birth rates, which, with the Chinese opening up in the 1970s, resulted in the Reagan maxim that China is only growing because of its 1.4 billion population; and the fact that the USSR reached a negative birth rate too early, before anybody else (i.e. that socialist countries have a tendency to premature demographic decline).
I’ve also read in social media from some expatriated Chinese (rabidly anti-communist, since they’re probably Kaishekists) that China’s birth rate decline is due to a silent protest of the newest generations against the CPC, that is, they want to kill communism by refusing to procreate. This argument doesn’t survive the empirical test, as, if the reason was purely ideological, we should expect the decline of the birth rates in China to be sudden, abrupt and violent (it should go from a positive level to a near-zero level in a very short amount of years). We should also have to be observing this ideology to have morphed into a political program, documented somewhere at least in the Chinese deep web — so far, there is no documental evidence of some anti-communist plan to stop giving birth. Ideologies have to morph into a political program if they want to be effective in the real world because the homo sapiens doesn’t have a hive mind like the bees, ants, mites etc. Also, there is the aforementioned fact that the decline of the birth rates is a global phenomenon, not just a purely Chinese one.
The idea of refusing to give birth as a form of political, anti-system protest is nothing new: the original Christianity (from the very beginning, taught by Jesus Christ himself) probably preached celibate (i.e. not having children) as a form of liberation of women. This was later distorted by Paullism (Christianity adapted to the tastes and customs of the Roman citizens, i.e. the gentiles, spread by Paul) as celibate of the priests in order to concentrate wealth in the hands of the Church.
I would be very cautious about the official COVID death rate in China. The country closest demographically and in terms of urban density is Japan which has been hammered by opening up. According to ‘Our World in Data’, the daily peak death rate was over 400 a day in Japan for the same variants as found in China. Translated for population size that would amount to around 5,000 deaths per day in China. Unless the Chinese authorities are using different interventions, and given the lower natural immunity in China, I cannot see any reason for the figures to be different unless there are issues with the vaccinations themselves as Japan has administered more boosters than most countries. But there is more to the picture than this. More honest accounts from the Ministry of Health in China, which I have quoted in my posts, show that they were caught unprepared for the wave of infections and that the health sector was ill prepared to cope with it, as most funds had been spent on testing rather preparing for the end to lockdown. Really, this massaging of the death count is insulting to the Chinese people and it will backfire. And it begs the question. Why do so even if it is Stalinist thing to do so? Only an insecure regime concerned about backlashes would resort to this kind of cover-up.
There is lots of evidence of Xi cozying up to the capitalist class, both local and foreign. Of significance has been the dovish choice of foreign minister formerly the ambassador to the USA. Much can be read into why this new love affair is blossoming. It could be to hinder the encirclement of China and delay war. It could be that the state intends to rely more on the animal spirits found in the private sector to help dig China out of its economic hole, and make no mistake it is in a hole because the only drivers left are arms production and technology substitution. Whether these can compensate for the collapse in exports and the housing market, we will have to wait to see. But there is a third unspoken reason which VK will no doubt attack and it is this. Instead of forming a united front with workers as intended in Xi’s report to the 20th Congress, we are in fact seeing a popular front between the tops in the CCP and the capitalist class, formed out of necessity because of the rise in social discontent.
It is all very well talking about rising standards of living in the past, but it is the current situation which dictates and in 2022 standards of living for urban households officially rose by 1.9% meaning not at all for those lower down the scale. And even then I question this rise given the National Bureau of Statistics of China use of an inflation rate of under 2% for the year or less than a quarter the rate found elsewhere.
I believe the tenor of the article is wrong and far too supportive of a country which disguises its incapacity to solve its problems through cover ups. On the plus side, an international working class struggle will not encounter a new home of reaction, China, but instead given the rising discontent found in China itself, will win allies in that country.
The CPC was not caught by surprise: official and extraofficial sources published in the Global Times days before Zero Covid was abandoned already pointed out that the main weakness of the Chinese healthcare system against the pandemic was the lack of ICU beds per 100,000 people. They knew their healthcare system was subpar before abandoning ZC — they were not in an ideal situation, but they were not surprised.
The Ministry of Health of China claims almost 60,000 deaths in the month following the end of ZC, which amounts to circa 1,200 deaths per day. The most catastrophic Western model predicted 9,000 deaths per day. The model was simply wrong.
Now you may claim the Chinese government is outright lying about the number of dead by COVID-19. The Western argument for that is that the Chinese are not counting people who probably died at their homes because of China’s alleged primitive healthcare system. This argument is very orientalist in my opinion: yes, the Chinese have the cultural habit to take care of their old parents and avoid leaving them in elderly care homes at all costs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sent their parents to die and rot in their homes: they will take them to the hospital in their deathbeds if the situation requires. So, the hospital deaths are as precise as in any other nation.
Besides, China’s healthcare system is worse than the First World ones, but it is not that pile of trash people claim it is: it is above most of the Third World and Emerging Economies. This is not a random African nation we’re talking about. China’s life expectancy has surpassed the USA’s, which is in a clear path to ruin.
But let’s hypothetically assume the NHC is really covering up millions of COVID-19 deaths. Let’s hypothetically assume the worst Western model of 9,000 deaths per day is precise. In this case, the NHC will probably have to cover up some 15 million excess deaths in one year. They surely could do that, but the problem is that the death of 15 million people causes a real distortion in the demography of any country, even on with 1.4 billion inhabitants, one that would take decades to recover. In that case, they would have to carry this distortion to the next census, i.e. they would have to lie on a monumental scale in the next census (due to 2030). That would be one hell of a workload for the NBSC for a lie that’s impossible to cover up forever, for little to no political gain.
The explanation for why China has done better than Japan, even with an inferior healthcare system, is very simple: Zero Covid was not abandoned suddenly. Instead, it is being gradually phased out, depending on the city and on the province. Not all aspects of ZC were abandoned.
The “rising discontent” you hail is, according to the mainstream views, directly responsible for forcing the evil CPC to let Covid rip. It seems….singular?… to condemn the CPC for falsifying the results of the people’s exercise of their working class internationalism.
The problem is that ucanbpolitical didn’t prove the CPC is falsifying COVID-19 deaths: he just came out with a model that he claims to indicate the CPC is doing it (he extrapolated the deaths in Japan to China, and assumed Japan is reporting the correct numbers).
We should not accuse others of crimes they didn’t commit or of crimes of which we do not have conclusive evidence. That’s what my parents taught me when I was just a child.
I agree with ucanbpolitical. I was also confused by what the Life Expectancy chart is meant to show. If China’s high life expectancy is now a prize for dealing responsibly with COVID, then why is Sweden’s even higher?
Good point or Africa with its lowest vaccination rates and lowest death rates.
Many contradictions here:
– Forbes reported in 2021 that 200+ new billionaires were minted in China during the pandemic;
– workers have struggled to build their own unions using Marxist praxis (see Jasic workers movement as reported by Labor Notes);
– vaccinations were forced upon citizens by government workers going door-to-door; the true effectiveness of these jabs (as in the West) is highly dubious (see “original antigenic sin”) but has been a windfall for Big Pharma;
– US/China “antagonism” needs to be seen in light of the original rapprochement by Nixon/Kissinger (two vehement anti-Communists who plotted at the same moment with the CIA to overthrow Chile’s Marxist Allende in 1973 and install Pinochet-Milton Friedman) as a way to offshore 1) growing US unionism and 2) growing US pollution (Nixon signed the EPA into law 1970).
Thank you again!
Unionism doesn’t imply in Marxism. On the contrary? unionism precedes Marxism. The British Labour Party, for example, was founded as a unionist party, and only became predominantly Marxist after WWII (if that).
The claim trade-unionism is the latest iteration of Marxism is just an Eurocentric (West-centric) falsification of History – at best a vulgar extrapolation of the short-lived legacy of the original SPD. In fact, the Nazi party’s origins was in the unions.
Unions are not and will never be revolutionary institutions. They are an integral part of the capitalist State. So far, the only institution that is demonstrated to be a capable revolutionary instrument is the party.
Yes, China is the first socialist country ever to be allowed to fully interact economically with the capitalist world. It is a new, never-seen-before case of study of socialism. Western Marxist scholars are wasting a historical opportunity when they outright discard the Chinese case as merely a “degenerate”, “Stalinist”, “bureaucratic” capitalist state.
“On the contrary? unionism precedes Marxism. ”
Of course it does. Unionism arises out of class struggle. Marxism obviously was impossible before Marx.
“The British Labour Party, for example, was founded as a unionist party, ”
You need to be careful with that word. The Conservatives were the “unionist” party. The Labour Party was founded with the encouragement of many Trade unions.
“and only became predominantly Marxist after WWII (if that).” Marxist influence in the Labour party, never more than a minority current, was probably highest in the 1930s and during the war.
“the Nazi party’s origins was in the unions.” No it was not.
“Unions are not and will never be revolutionary institutions. They are an integral part of the capitalist State…”
It is impossible to justify such a blanket statement. In fact there have been many openly revolutionary Unions. The fact that, currently, in the west, unions, in large part because of legal trammels, are corrupt and complicit is important but no more than that. Unions are a basic, one might say, natural result of class struggle.
Very late but perhaps still a good reminder? Marxism was taught to Marx by workers as well as Hegel and the legacy of the French Revolution. Look up the League of the Just. Even more Marxism was taught to Marx by the workers in the Chartist movement in England. If one objects that “Chartism” wasn’t a trade union like the cigar makers (Samuel Gompers reference here,) so what? Neither were the Knights of Labor in the US. The notion that “unions” can be divisive is too blanket, but it’s not completely insane if you erroneously limit the history of unions to craft unions led by committed bourgeois democrats. Industrial unions were much more apt to unite but that’s why in the US the labor unions were purged back at the beginning of the Trentes Glorieuses. That sort of thing is one reason I insist they were *not* such glorious decades.
It’s easy to overlook revolutionary unions because they generally were short-lived and failed spectacularly to stay the course. In the US, the IWW (aka Wobblies) were targets of violence. Repression and failure to deliver on wages etc. plus the usual preferential recruitment of labor leaders in the rival unions (look up the concept of “labor lieutenants of capital” popularized by Daniel De Leon) turned the IWW which I think formally still exists today into just another anti-Communist labor formation. Anarcho-syndicalist unions have been no more successful in other countries. Formally the CNT in Spain had the wherewithal to defeat the Nationalist coup by Mola (later, Franco after Mola was killed,) not just in gross numbers but in alleged purity of doctrine and revolutionary commitment. As we all should know, it failed miserably, which is why the Spanish CP grew so much afterward, as the war progressed. (The Spanish CP was not a significant player when the coup occurred, despite the article of faith that Stalin was masterminding everything in Spain, probably including Franco himself!)
I believe that the theoretical deficiencies of anarchism, a fundamentally reactionary ideology, were revealed in the defeat of CNT/FAI. The opposition to the very notion of the workers’ state is a kind of class war pacifism, unilateral disarmament of the workers in the face of the bourgeoisie. No formation, whether a political party or a trade union, committed to the principle that the dictatorship of the proletariat is really mere dictatorship can win. Anti-communism is the dividing line between the left and the rest. And that include the Social Democrats too, I think.
“The other problem is the democratic accountability of the Chinese government. China’s leadership is not accountable to its working people; there are no organs of worker democracy. There is no democratic planning. Only the 100 million CP members have a say in China’s economic future, and that is really only among the top. As a result, the CP leaders lurch from periods of expanding the private sector and the market to periods of trying to restrict and control it. Chinese workers are pawns in this game.”
Going to the last point first, the notion of zig-zags? Consider this historic example of a criticism of zig-zags and its rebuttal.
“The Committees of Poverty existed about six months, from June to December 1918. In their institution, as in the abolition, Kautsky sees nothing but the “waverings” of Soviet policy. Yet at the same time he himself has not even a suspicion of any practical lessons to be drawn. And after all, how should he think of them? Experience such as we are requiring in this respect knows no precedent; and questions and problems such as the Soviet Government is solving in practice have no solutions in books. What Kautsky calls contradictions in policy are, in reality, the *active manoeuvring* of the proletariat in the spongy, undivided, peasant mass. The sailing ship has to manoeuvre before the wind; yet no one will see contradictions in the manoeuvres which finally bring the ship to harbor.”
It is not possible to simply assume that changes in policy are failures in policy. After all, a rigid conformity to a preconceived plan is as apt to be condemned for as doctrinaire ideology. Making a plausible case that the zig-zags are the problem means making a plausible counterfactual case for an alternate policy.
Backing up, it is not clear to me that the Chinese leadership since the end of the Cultural Revolution has ever worked to shrink the private sector, much less the implied other course, expanding the socialized sector. This is even more true given the prevailing opinion that state owned enterprises are simply capitalist enterprises mystically owned by the bureaucracy (which apparently includes all government employees, including the janitors I suppose.) It is quite true that there have been periods with greater efforts to control some aspects, or even individuals. But isn’t that true too of capitalist countries? Anti-trust, railroad regulation, the New Deal, etc. are waverings in the commitment of the bourgeois state to democracy…I find that hard to accept.
If anything, ever since the Cultural Revolution there has been an unwavering, doctrinaire commitment to the capitalist road, where some metaphysically independent CPC/PRC will somehow turn into a rich, modern nation like England or the US with loads of billionaires feting the Standing Committee while everybody will be like the loyal workers of England and the US, committed patriots one and all (and if their children or grand-children get rich like everybody does in England and the US, hurrah!) I’m reading Isabella Weber’s book right now. The infamous saying, crossing the river by groping for the stones, seems to be misread when convenient as implying that the goal is open. But really, the groping is not about finding the way, the goal is set, the groping is about finding a safe way to make the next step. The Dengists and their current maximum leader Xi have been consistent in their goal. All I say is that at some point, they won’t find the next stone and they will have to change the political system to reach their goal. Weber noticed that Kornai knew this but doesn’t think that the time it takes to reach the breaking point can seem to be a relatively long period in one person’s life.
The beginning point, the idea that if the government had been overthrown by the Tian An Men slow motion journee, or that the capitalists of Hong Kong should revise the central government (perhaps my impression they are the most rapacious capitalist in the PRC is grievously in error) or that the Taiwan (and Singaporean and Philippine Chinese bourgeoisie) should revitalize the PRC’s political system simply does not strike me as a given. I don’t think there’s anyone else here for one who doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with the universal hatred and rejection of the Cultural Revolution. That is, everyone agrees with the cardinal political principle of the Chinese system ever since 1978. And no one else here thinks any possible renewal of mass activity that bears the remotest resemblance to any of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution can be tolerated for one moment.
Of course that the Chinese system is not the final form of socialism. Of course it will disappear someday. Of course that it can collapse with its own contradictions like the CPSU did. In History, almost anything can happen. In fact, that’s precisely what the USA is counting on, as we can read in the latest National Security Strategy (2022): that, eventually, China will install a dumb dictator a la Gorbachev, who will press the self-destruction button of the PRC, hence liberal democracy is superior (because it doesn’t depend on competent politicians to survive).
But, on the theory of socialism in isolation, that’s not the problem with the analysis of the case of the CPC. The possibility of a capitalist restoration in China does not pose a theoretical problem for Marxism — it only poses a historical question, not a philosophical one.
Just to give you a concrete example, so we can rid of all of our orientalist preconceptions: there is an NHS nurses general strike going on in the UK right now. Everybody outside the UK knows the NHS is finished: it is just a matter of time and manner. The British left either refuses to accept this inexorable tendency, or doesn’t know that. This nurse strike will probably be defeated. All evidence, for any good Marxist, points to the direction of the inexorable death of the British left and all of its institutional and economic pillars that sustained it or the last 75 years.
All of that is a historical question, not a philosophical one. The philosophical one is this: even if, by some divine (Hegelian) miracle, the NHS was suddenly restored to its full glory after an out of nowhere Labour victory in an out of nowhere snap GE, and the nurses (i.e. the nurses’ union) achieve an absolute victory in their general strike, how much closer to socialism would humanity be? Even more humbly: would the UK be closer or more distant to socialism, or the same distance?
“Of course that the Chinese system is not the final form of socialism. Of course it will disappear someday. Of course that it can collapse with its own contradictions like the CPSU did.”
Another piece of cynicism is, “In the long run, we are all dead.” If we are going to go long, then we need to talk about how imperialism/capitalism/fascism/bourgeois democracy are not the final society and will either disappear first, before the common ruin takes us all Then we need to talk about how socialism can move on from the endless war. But if we are to do any of that, starting from the standpoint that the collapse of the USSR was due to internal causes, the innate contradictions of socialism, then we are starting with a false viewpoint. Worse, if we are to advocate peaceful coexistence/multipolarity we need some notion of how imperialism/capitalism/fascism/bourgeois democracy are going to collapse from *its* internal contradictions. What this is saying, is, capitalism has a future and clever Chinese leadership has a plan to use it to reform part of the world into an improved social democracy while the rest of the world…something, I guess, dies of the terminal vileness of the masses?
“in History, almost anything can happen.”
No, it can’t. A multipolar world will not be centuries of peaceful coexistence in the slow evolution of socialism as it strives to someday to win the whole of humanity by its manifest superiority in wealth and power and morality (traditional morality, if that’s the plurality choice!) We’ve had a multipolar world in the larger part of human history. Probably the apex of the multipolar world of capitalism was the nineteenth century, the Golden Age of Empire (this is why steampunk loves this period so much I think.) That ended in the Great War. Nothing can happen to bring that glorious age (as others see it, not me!) back. Especially not BRI. Whatever you call it, OBOR, it is the New Silk Road to Nowhere. Only the massive destruction of capital can restore a significantly long period of renewed profitability. The hybrid form WWIII has already begun, though, so I suppose you have something to look forward to.
“In fact, that’s precisely what the USA is counting on, as we can read in the latest National Security Strategy (2022): that, eventually, China will install a dumb dictator a la Gorbachev, who will press the self-destruction button of the PRC, hence liberal democracy is superior (because it doesn’t depend on competent politicians to survive).”
The most striking dumbness of Gorbachev was either his belief imperialism could be appeased or his belief that a little capitalism/capitalist economics would create a middle class that would dominate a social democracy where the petite bourgeoisie could coexist in class harmony with loyal workers. Unfortunately, both those are principles upheld by the Dengist regime. This kind of dumbness has nothing to do with IQ, or the cunning in attaining high office and excluding rivals from their even.
“But, on the theory of socialism in isolation, that’s not the problem with the analysis of the case of the CPC. The possibility of a capitalist restoration in China does not pose a theoretical problem for Marxism — it only poses a historical question, not a philosophical one.”
Socialism isn’t in isolation, even though the PRC is working for an orderly destruction of the northern Korean state. Cuba is slated for destruction. The US bourgeoisie never forgives, the Vietnamese have a grim fate eventually as well. There’s a reason Deng launched his invasion of Vietnam, still the greatest single premeditated atrocity in Chinese history for the last century. Those of you who think the Cultural Revolution was the worst should also applaud the war on Vietnam, if consistency matters. Mostly of course, it is not a historical question, but a political one.
The rest, about the destruction of the “left” in England, is mostly a kind of gloating about the just fates of the wretched scum called the English working class. Apparently there is a new category, some sort of nationalized cross between the lumpenproletariat *and* the aristocracy of labor. simultaneously, mirabile dictu! Personally I deny this, I don’t think it’s any more sophisticated than the old Three World theory.
Theory accepts anything. One of Marx’s greatest discoveries is that theory/ideology etc. are only effective when they can become practice, i.e. when it becomes praxis.
The problem, then, is not to piss over Maoism and Marxism-Leninism — those are not sacred scriptures, you can refute and choose not to follow them. The problem is that, in the context of praxis, you should substitute such theories with better theories. It’s like owning an NFL franchise: the problem is not firing your head coach, but finding a better head coach to substitute him.
So, again, the concrete question remains: you discarded the Soviet and Chinese experiences of socialism. You also discarded multipolarity. What is, then, the clear path, the praxis, for achieving socialism in the First World countries?
“So, again, the concrete question remains: you discarded the Soviet and Chinese experiences of socialism. You also discarded multipolarity. What is, then, the clear path, the praxis, for achieving socialism in the First World countries?”
But I have not discarded the Soviet and Chinese experiences. If anyone has, it is you, especially in relation to Chinese socialism. The belief that the invasion of Vietnam is a Good Thing while normal trade with the northern Korean state, *still* besieged after all these decades, is discarding the Chinese experience. The bland insistence on reversing collectivization of agriculture and expropriation of capital in the Fifties was an error, is discarding. Parroting the hostile propaganda about the Great Leap Forward so that famine was government policy and there weren’t even any droughts is discarding. The insistence that the Cultural Revolution is the worst thing that ever happened is discarding. There is a reason the PRC dare not publish collected works of Mao, it’s about rejecting the experience of Chinese revolution. Not even the objective, critical examination of errors is permissible!
On the other hand, since “multipolarity” is the experience of capitalism/imperialism, discarding *that* is a true fidelity to the experience of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions.
The clear path, the praxis? Instead of intimidating Jack Ma, expropriate Ant. Or, even better, turn Ali Baba into a state distribution agency, trying to turn this capitalist-inspired perversion into a useful instrument for planning. Normalize trade relations with northern Korea. Socialize the bankrupt real estate. If needed, surrender claims to Taiwan rather than risk nuclear war. Cap all incomes for party cadres: No billionaires or millionaires in the party. Promote collective security against imperialism, not collaboration with it. Leave the WTO. Mass recruit among workers. Expand the scope of planned investments, shut down capital markets. Restore the right to strike to the constitution.
You object this is not a guaranteed easy path to victory? It’s far more likely to lead to victory than weakening China with social deformities like a rabble of billionaires. The SEZs should be called neocolonial concessions I believe. The repeated efforts of the central government to cut social spending are weakening the workers state, leaving the local rich and their allies/minions/occasional relatives in the local party in charge. China I fear is threatened by a financial warlordism. In real life, “China” is one country, civil wars over dividing it up will be a catastrophe for all. The capitalist road is the wrong road.
The only real question is why it’s more disturbing to have someone think the wrong policies are being followed by the current leadership than to have the PRC outright dismissed as capitalist, imperialist, etc. worse than the democratic West? That’s almost as if it were more about fixation on Xi personally as a warrior against the evil workers of the West?
If you have covered an analysis of Chinese investment across Africa, parts of Europe and Latin America, please advise where to look.
My rather shallow impression is that a great deal of their money and construction expertise goes into infrastructure. It’s astonishing that while China is being drawn as the next great threat after Russia in the Western media, we hear nothing about the high speed rail services they’ve been involved in. From watching CGTN, I know there is one under construction in Indonesia and I think they are working one between China and Vietnam. I think there is one in service in an Eastern European country. Are there any more that you know of?
My question in this regard is that, aside from gaining geo-political support from these countries and others where it has partnered in various infrastructure projects, does China currently reap a monetary return on these investments?
Brian Waite Vancouver, BC (778) 871-9671 ________________________________
I expected criticism. But I never used any of those terms or words. Anyway if and when the Chinese government issues total death figures over this period allowing for the verification of excess mortality data, the argument will be settled.
But you’ve already stated as a given that the Chinese government is not a reliable source (without any evidence).
So, which is your parameter? Which number would satisfy you?
History is the best strip tease act. In time all will be revealed. Let us patiently wait for the excess mortality data.
Except it isn’t. History still requires sources and documents and archaeological evidence.
99.99999999% of History is forever lost. What we call nowadays “History” is just an infinitesimally small glimpse of the past.
Reblogged this on DAMIJAN blog and commented:
Je Kitajska res na robu prepada in da zdrsne v “past srednje razvitosti”? Je bila njena “zero Covid” politika res neuspešna? Bo stagnacija glede demografije kitajsko gospodarsko rast res drastično znižala?
Michael Roberts zelo učinkovito pobije te “argumente” zahodnih analitikov. Če bi Kitajska uveljavila enake protikovidne ukrepe kot zahodne države, bi bilo število mrtvih tisočkrat večje, tako pa se je Kitajska izognila tako mrtvim kot recesiji.
Demografska stagnacija za Kitajsko še nekaj časa ne bo problem, ker produktivnost povečuje za 4 do 6-krat hitreje od zahodnih držav. Prav tako ni problematilen njen centraliziran investicijsko-gnani model razvoja, saj ta generira bistveno višjo gospodarsko rast ter tehnološko bolj napredno gospodarsko strukturo kot zahodni decentralizirani model potrošniško-gnanega razvoja. Zahdni analitiki in politiki se že vsaj dve desetletji sistematično motijo glede (nadaljevanja) uspešnosti kitajskega razvojnega modela, ki se kar noče sesuti. Najbrž prav zato, ker Kitajska ne sledi zahodnemu modelu razvoja, ki je očitno razvojno bistveno manj uspešen.
“Unfortunately, sections of the Chinese leadership, particularly their economists in the finance sector, accept this annoyingly stupid argument from the Western experts. How can anybody claim that the mature ‘consumer-led’ economies of the G7 have been successful in achieving steady and fast economic growth, or that real wages and consumption growth have been stronger there? Indeed, in the G7 consumption has failed to drive economic growth; and wages have stagnated in real terms over the last ten years (and are now falling), while real wages in China have shot up.”
Origin of Nazis in the German trade unions? I thought it was in the Volskischer movement of the 19th century and the Freikorps of the 20th. Imagine that. and the UK Labour Party as a Marxist party after WW2? Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan, Kinnock, Blair and Gordon presente! And the NHS is “finished,” as if a “good Marxist” would then wash his or her hands of the struggle by workers to defend access to healthcare, because “everybody” knows….what? Unionized workers are fascists-in-waiting?
The Freikorps can be considered the embryo of the Nazi Party, with a good dose of hindsight (they grew within the womb of the first SPD government, under Friedrich Ebert himself, the gravedigger of the German Revolution). It only gained mass within some unions, although, of course, most of them were not won by the Nazis. The unions are not Nazi institutions, but they’re also not naturally socialist/communist institutions. They are liberal institutions, an integral part of the capitalist Leviathan.
Yes, the Labour Party was not founded as a Marxist party. Up until the 1920s, it was definitely not a majorly Marxist party. I don’t think there is an official statistics of the number of Marxists in the Labour Party, but, if Marxism was ever hegemonic in it, it could only have been in the immediate postwar period, when even its right-wing (Gaitskellites) called themselves “socialists” (democratic socialists). Either way, it was always (and still is) an anti-communist party.
The evidence is very clear: the NHS is finished. It is only a matter of time. This is not my opinion, just the facts on the field.
The British Marxists can do whatever they want. On a theoretical level, the problem remains: is trade-unionism inevitably taking the UK closer to socialism, even assuming the best case scenario? After all, if China’s lifting 850 million people out of poverty is not socialism or a step closer to socialism, why would a bunch of British nurses winning some above-inflation wages adjustment?
Oh those pesky details: Yes Ebert utilized the Freikorps to suppress the communists and workers; no the Freikorps was not a creature or organization of offshoot of the SPD
Yes, the Labour Party has long considered itself socialist. No that does not make the LP a Marxist party. Marxists have participated in the party for decades, without ever coming close to being a majority or establishing a leadership in the “executive” of the party.
The NHS is not quite “finished,” no more than Medicare, or Social Security is in the US. The ghost and ghosts and zombies of Thatcherism certainly want to do away with NHS as a society-wide healthcare system, but regardless, that’s not a reason to dismiss the nurses’ strike. It’s quite possible that the struggle itself will lead to better organization of the working class. It’s quite possible that it does not. It’s possible that the outcome hinges on not writing off the current actions.
Here’s the thing, working class actions are not immediately nor automatically socialist. If that were the case, the proletarian revolution would have conquered the world years ago. Still, Marxists support those actions (mostly, and sometimes, critically with recognition of their reactionary potential– there’s always the case of the general strike in South Africa a century ago, where one of the slogans, IIRC, was “For a white, socialist, South Africa.” )
I don’t know of anyone other than the Koch Bros, Fox News, Ayn Randists, Friedmanites, hedge fund managers, hell, the bourgeoisie and their agents in general who think trade unions bring society “closer” to socialism. Those people and that class also believe taxation is socialist. Can unions win, for longer or shorter periods, better conditions and compensation for workers? Of course, and not always. But let’s flip the script–do you think “lifting 850 million out of poverty” is a step “closer” to socialism? I mean “tiering” the working class, driving inequality up, and 1 trillion in foreign direct investment were the “levers” to the lifting. Generally, it’s the editors of the Wall Street Journal, MBAs, who hail the “lift” as proof of the viability, the necessity, of capitalist relations. So objectively was that lift a step forward for socialism, or capitalism?
Economic continuous growth in China or the G7, or anywhere else is not possible. There are ecological limits to it (water, soil, other resources, etc.) plus now climate change, ocean acidification, soil exhaustion, etc. Population growth already has declined in many countries not only in China despite falling relative numbers we are 8 billion people, this situation is already proving unsustainable Let’s imagine workers taking power and workers democracy is established (councils, ‘soviets’, etc.) wealth is redistributed and after such an event, what? What about consumption, population growth, etc.–the planet is finite. I am sorry to write that Malthus and David Ricardo (law of diminishing returns) are right. About Marx fall of the rate of profit: Societies everywhere and under any regime are based on ‘surplus value’ (unpaid energy) from workers to be absorbed by ‘capital’ or redistributed by ‘workers state’ ; machines substituting work need to be paid and obviously their use implied less ‘surplus value” and profits (in socialism or capitalism) fall. The only hope for humanity is a very austere socialism, far from hunting in the morning and fishing in the afternoon, with much less population. Please, translate to English and read Wolfgang Harich “Communism without Growth” (German and Spanish).
PS-Unfortunately the “Report to the Club of Rome” was right. I would very much like to be proved wrong.
Really? Well first off, the Club of Rome is an association, a coterie of business people, government leaders, and intellectuals loyal to both. So the material interests make it advisable to disregard everything coming from them.
Back in the 1970s, when the Club issued its report on the limits to growth, the global population was less than half of the present level. Oil production was less than half, Growth was already slowing. As a matter of fact, in Germany, UK, US, France, Japan, Italy growth in 1970s was lower than the 60s; 80s and 90s were lower than the 1970s (and the 80s were the “lost decade” for Latin America) ; in the 2000-2010 only the US showed average annual growth greater than the 1990s, and the 2010-2020 period? If anything deserves to be called a long recession that decade surely qualifies.
Since 2008 growth overall has been, shall we say, “fragile,” “anemic,”? Maybe pathetic? I’d say pathetic is the accurate description
So the “Club” got its wish, except for those rutting animals called humans who just can’t keep their hands off each other and can’t stop copulating. OR not, given the negative population growth in China, Russia, and the aging of the population in the EU and Japan. Keep in mind the decline in life expectancy in the US. Another wish granted.
So how has that worked out– this low growth? Well you think? What? not low enough growth? As Burke said to Gorman when Ripley grabbed the controls of the APC: “You’ve had your chance, Gorman.”
The world is not suffering from overpopulation depleting earth’s resource; it is not suffering from a population that has run up the inside of the cage of “natural limits.” It is suffering from capitalist destruction, waste, overproduction, and the capitalists’ intrinsic need to accumulate the means of production as exchangeable values.
You think “austere socialism” is a solution? That will be the quick way to stimulate the impulse to capitalist restoration.
Maybe the course of the commenters here should be entitled “marxist commentators: zig zagging”.
Anti-capital and Jlowry can be counted on for providing a seemingly marxist analysis of China that inevitably leads to indifference to or support of NATO’s war on China. Ucanbe waivers between strong opposition to war on China to outright contempt for the country. Steven Johnson pointedly emphasizes universal hatred among all Chinese of the cultural revolution, while championing Mao as a staunch revolutionary. Only VK is consistently marxist in his analyses because he is consistently Historical Materialist in keeping in mind capitalism’s 500 years of evolution, based on evolving different forms of expropriation/exploitation of its colonized victims. Ending capitalism is ending imperialism.
This is not to say that he is not too rigid and that he is always correct. But above all, Marx was a revolutionary…
Here comes m&m again
With lies and deceit
and two right feet…
Apologies Iggy Pop. m&m claims I am indifferent or support NATO’s war on China. Push-button Steve Johnson claims I think China is the worst thing on the planet or some such rot, and I challenge them– not that facts matter to sworn ideologues who can’t or won’t pick a side between workers cops– to produce anything I’ve submitted on this site (or some other) that backs up the claims. I certainly oppose any capitalist attack on China, and specifically oppose everything NATO does, including its supply and resupply of the capitalist government in Ukraine. I don’t think the CPC regime is the worst on the planet, but then again I spend zero time categorizing regimes from good to bad to worse.
I think the only thing I’ve said about China is along the lines of: It’s not the right question–“is China capitalist or socialist.” The right question is what forces, economic activities, relations of production have been “quickened,” facilitated, stimulated, by the policies followed by the CPC from Deng’s rule to today.. capitalist or socialist?” And the answer is clearly capitalist..
China is not now socialist and never was. China did experience a social revolution which changed relations of land and labor in the countryside and beginning in the 50s forcibly shrunk private ownership in the urban areas. The revolution was essential, necessary, and merits defense. The policies since the revolution are imposed by the isolation of that revolution and since 79 by the penetration of economy by about a trillion dollars in investment by the bourgeoisie of advanced countries.. None of that makes the revolution “socialist.” The basic relations established in production 49-76 seem to me to follow those established by the former Soviet Union after 1929. Those are not socialist relations of production, but I don’t think I’ve ever used this site to make any extensive argument about that.
No, Mao’s not my hero. Quite liked Fidel, the little time I spent with him, but I’m not a Fidelista. I think Bordiga had it exactly right when he called Stalin the “gravedigger of the revolution”– which the official CPs (and reps of the 3rd Intl when it existed) proved time and time again in China, Germany, Spain, France, Vietnam, Greece, Indonesia, Egypt, Chile etc etc ad nauseum. Again I don’t or at least hope I don’t use this space to repeatedly advertise those views.
So put-up or shut-up, Johnny Yen, I mean m&m. I’m just a modern guy.
I most certainly do not think the Dengists are all the Chinese people. In fact I believe that the real power relations of a workers’ state where the would-be bourgeoisie has no strong foundations for its class rule reveals a de facto support for “Maoism” in its broadest meaning. The supposed capitalist bureaucracy so detested by the usual suspects is so weak that workers’ strikes and mass popular protests have been known to force reversals of policy. I don’t see that happening in the US, where millions of people in the streets couldn’t stop the Iraq war. (Some would blame the masses for not wasting their time in demonstrations that never achieve their aim!) The bureaucracy is weak because it has no sound class foundations to oppose the workers and “peasants.” I think the Chinese *people* are so far from universally hating Mao that the capitalist roaders still can’t see any way of getting to popular elections on an openly bourgeois democratic, pro-capitalist programs. The joke is, in China they can’t change the officials, they can only change the policies, but in the free US, it’s the other way around.
Property relations are power relations and the state is an arena of class struggle and the Chinese state is still not yet their weapon against us. (My notion of who us is seems to be different from others.) The president of the People’s Bank of China does not openly fight to lower wages nor does the President of China solemnly insist that’s his plan for fighting inflation. The weapon of the state is not yet securely in bourgeois hands, because the privatization of state property has not succeeded yet. The ultimate reason is that too many Chinese are not yet supporters of private property. That’s why I think destroying this state is counterrevolutionary, whatever the rhetoric the demand masks itself with.
I do however think the total rejection of the Cultural Revolution is otherwise universal here. Some hate the Dengists still because they are committed to bourgeois democracy, and the dictatorship of the proletariat, however imperiled it is, is still too much for them. Some I suspect admire the Dengists because they admire what they think is success and believe the capitalist road is the road to victory and that’s what impresses them. But I believe the Dengists are weakening China, no matter what the gross domestic product is. I think adoration of Xi as a triumphant moderate and execrating the Cultural Revolution (even as lip service is paid to Mao, because….Maoism isn’t really hated by the masses,) is very much like admiring Napoleon for making France strong and setting up the Rule of Law (vive Code Napoleon!) and promoting by merit while thinking Robespierre was a monstrous deviation, and the first priority in democratic theory is preventing another Robespierre.
I don’t think Robespierre was one of us (Gracchus Babeuf probably, but the general attitude seems to be, Gracchus who?) But I also think the kind of democrat whose principles put condemnation of Robespierre first isn’t even much of a democrat. I find it very hard to see the Jacobin web site without wondering whether any but a handful of its contributors wouldn’t have been part of the Vendee or the White Terror. They’re not leftwing enough to be Jacobins. Revolutionary government is a fundamental principle of revolution and being against that is literally being counter-revolutionary. And no, there is no anti-revolutionary.
PS The historical materialism acknowledges that capitalism took decades and decades to fulfill its promise to lead society in bourgeois democratic revolutions, a promise it never could in the end live fully up to. But the historical materialism also tells us that the growth of the productive forces of humanity has speeded the tempo of history. We are racing either to socialism or to the common ruin and there will be no indefinite period of hybrid class forms peacefully coexisting in a multipolar world.
”Anti-capital and Jlowry can be counted on for providing a seemingly marxist analysis of China that inevitably leads to indifference to or support of NATO’s war on China.” loe
Anti-capital and Jlowry can be counted on for providing a seemingly marxist analysis of China that inevitably leads to indifference to or support of NATO’s war on China.” Please provide evidence where I state such!
The basic relations established in production 49-76 seem to me to follow those established by the former Soviet Union after 1929. Those are not socialist relations of production, ‘ Well. 85% of the Chinese pop;ation in the Mao era lived on the Communes. According to Jack Chen, who went to live and work with the peasants for a whole year ( ”A Year in Upper Felicity”1973),from of that part of production that was allocated to consumption all village members received a allocation of grain and beans. The rest of the production fund was distributed on the basis of work points, a day’s labour being evaluated at 10 points, more heavy work at 12 and lighter at 7. So what is non-communistic about this? What then should socialist relations of production in the countryside look like? What does Anti-capital have against such an organisation of agricultural production? Actually, what was wrong on the communes was the presence of that little tyrant called a party secretary.. They had such in the Soviet Union too: one was called Stalin, others were called Lenin and Trotsky. I note that in 1923 the great Russian Marxist, Bogdanov, was thrown in prison for supposedly tormenting workers’ strikes.. So it is not clear how Stalin was supposed to have betrayed the Revolution. What was the nature of the relations of production that they could be betrayed? As for Fidel, I should certainly be willing to be called a Fidelista, but one has to draw a line at his getting down on his knees before John Paul2 and declaring, ”Holy Father, for me this is a miracle”!
I wish further to address the question of relations of production and juridical status . As Marx observed, ( Capital Vol.3 P 567) of Joint-stock Companies, ”Capital…now receives the form of social capital…in contrast to private capital, and its enterprises appear as social enterprises as opp[osed to private ones. this is the abolition of capital as private property within the confines of the capitalist mode of production itself.”
Let us now turn to how the Leninists envisage socialism. I use here the analysis of P. Chattopadhyay iCh 13 in ”The New Value Controversy”(Eds Freeman,,Kliman, Wells. 2004).
”Lenin conceives of socialism basically in terms of property relations rather than relations of production and social ownership is taken to be the equivalent of the abolition of private property…social ownership of the means of production signifies ownership of the means of production by the working class state….state factory products exchanged against peasants’ are not commodities ( contra Stalin in 1952!)… Lenin envisages the equality of labour and wages for all citizens now transformed into ‘hired employees of the State’…
Trotsky’s approach to socialism is juridical. In order to establish socialism the principal task is to win the fight against private capital , which means abolishing ‘individual ownership’ of the means of production…he speaks of the Soviet Syaye’s of fixed and circulating capital through primitive socialist accumulation…’The socialist economy is the planned state economy, where planning would mean abolition of the market there will be obligatory labour and he argued against the Mensheviksthat piece-work, a form of exploitation under capitalism, assumes a different quality once production is socialised. when it becomes an instrument of socialist production and thus contributes to the common well -being ( later denounced Stalin for employing piece-work in his ”The Revolution Betrayed”).
Bukharin: With the proletarian nationalisation of the means of production there arises the state form of socialism and the process of the creation of surplus value ceases. ….products of labour continue continue to be exchanged in their price form, prices are simply formal, without value content ….mqarket relations, money, the stock market, the banks play a very big role in the transitional economy.
Preobrazhenky: The soviet economy is a socialist commodity economy with a commodity sector and a state or socialist sector… There are two regulators of the economy-the law of value and the principle of the plan…within the state sector…there is the atrophy of the operation of the law of value. the fundamental law is the Law of Primitive Socialist Accumulation The PSA struggles against the law of value…within the state sector of the economy there is really no commodity production; the category of price has a purely formal character….P writes of socialist relations of production of the state economy.Thus according to P by a single juridical act the old relations of production are ‘degreed away'(MARX)). What Marx long ago denounced as ‘juridical illusion”!
So we see that Stalin’s economic ideas were very much in line with the other leading Leninists. In fact, they might in some aspects have been superior. It is Mao who is the odd man out : thus his insistence that the expropriation of the bourgeoisie changes almost nothing, as being a purely juridical measure on a par with the granting of equal rights in law to women. “”Everything else remains to be done'(sic). e.g. the overcoming of the differences between city and country, between mental and physical labour, the attack on bourgeois right, and in particular the continuous denunciation of ‘the productive forces theory of socialism’ whereby socialism will arrive by outproducing capitalism. ”Instead of the scale of production being controlled by existing needs, the quantity of products made is determined by the constantly increasing scale of production dictated by the mode of production itself. Its aim is that the individual product should contain as much unpaid labour as possible and this is achieved only by producing for the sake of production” (Capital Vol 1 Pp1037-38). This seems to me to be the aim of the Chinese State, the universal capitalist in Marx’s formulation;ation.
“What does Anti-capital have against such an organisation of agricultural production?”
JL asks a question, and he provides one answer– the “petty tyrant.” However the presence of the “petty tyrant” is indicative of the backward level of productivity in the countryside. We have to keep in mind that, contrary to what Lenin wrote, capitalism had failed, was congenitally incapable of revolutionizing the relations of production in rural Russia. Thus the “dual” telescoped nature of the revolution and the tasks confronting the proletariat. The bureaucracy was created in the absence of, and functions as an analog of capitalist development.
I think, and I think Marx recognizes, that socialist relations of production depend on a certain level of productivity in the organization of rural production– somewhere in his manuscripts Marx writes that all history revolves around relations between city and countryside.
The degraded level of industrial production, and the undeveloped system of circulation, and most importantly, the repeated defeats of revolution in Germany made it extremely difficult for the Russian Revolution to establish reciprocating advances in productivity in the connections between city and countryside.
In China, yes 85% of the population lived on communes and there were conditions of equality enforced– but labor time was still used as the basis for exchange. I don’t consider it possible for a country where 85% of the population is engaged in agricultural production with average plot sizes less than a hectare to have advanced productivity to the point where equality exists between city and countryside. The oft-abused Gini coeffecient for China pre 1979 was .30– much more equality than the capitalist countries-BUT– the gap between city and countryside was estimated at 2:1, based on reduced access to higher education opportunities, public transportation, sanitation etc in rural areas. That’s not socialism, nor socialist relations.
I have nothing against communes as communes, but those are forms of agricultural production that are generated by lower productivity.
Still, doesn’t make me an advocated of capitalism, then now or tomorrow; or indifferent or in favor of overthrow of the CPC by capitalists. It does make me believe that given the absence of revolution in the “advanced countries”– the Global North– revolutions led by a big C Communist Party, will sooner or later, attempt to administer the impulse to capitalist restoration.
”JL asks a question, and he provides one answer– the “petty tyrant.” However the presence of the “petty tyrant” is indicative of the backward level of productivity in the countryside.” No, Anti-capital does not agree with my assertion, but gets back to his real belief that it is the low development of the productive forces How would the super-abundant growth of the productive forces get rid of tyrants, petty or otherwise? Where there are political parties, there will be tyrants, using the term with its original connotations. Anyway,Marx himself held that the peasant commune in Russia might ‘function as the fulcrum of social regeneration in Russia.’ Ant-capital affirms, ”labor time was still used as the basis for exchange. .” What exchange? The Workpoints are not circulating. They are an evaluation of a day’s labour-time. Such must pertain under any mode of production. What the peasants paid to the state was a tax in kind. Marx explains, ”Even though the the labour of the direct producers of foodstuffs taken by itself breaks down into necessary and surplus labour, in relation to society it thus represents the necessary labour required simply for the production of foodstuffs”( Capital Vol. 3 P773).
I note your reference Bordiga, according to whom one could determine that Russia was capitalist by entering a store and seeing that the workers exchanged their wages for goods. Well, we have the accounts for the construction of the Erechtheium Temple in Ancient Athens. Both the free and slave workers were paid wages. So was this capitalism? I cannot envisage how Bordiga would unravel the complexities here. Of course in towns and cities in the Ancient World the citizens bought their bread. As for the Communes, the state advanced no capital to the them, there was no labour market, and the peasants created no surplus value. Recall how St Mark’s Gospel tells us, ”that Caesar Augustus declared that all the world be taxed.” The emperor was surely not a state capitalist. So how does Brodiga envisage the distribution of goods under the lower stage of communism? In his “Dialogue with Stalin” he asserts goods will be distributed ( note the use of the passive voice that allows the elision of the agent of such distribution and indeed of any analysis at all) by quota. So citizens of a future ‘communism’ will get their footwear by quota?
PS. I should clarify that my comments are not necessarily aimed at Anti-capital who of course may well not entertain some of the thesis I criticise here. I hope to generate a more critical analysis than the “Revolution Betrayed’ or the low level of the forces of production as explanations of previous failures. The large Italian Communist Party getting some 30% of the electoral vote liquidated itself.. Why? Surely not in contemplating the low level of the productive forces?
I’m a little hesitant to do anything that might detract mandm from his deep dive research attempting to prove that JL and/or I am at best indifferent to, if not outright supporters of, NATO attacks on China. I know how thorough and precise mandm is in regards to his anti-red baiting anyone who thinks there is any revolutionary potential among workers of the advanced countries, so he must have some evidence. Right mandm? Don’t go all Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn on us and clam up when you’re called out on your accusations.
But so be it, JL deserves a response.
1. It’s axiomatic to Marx’s historical materialism and his analysis of the prospects for socialism, that industry reach a certain level of production and productivity. That’s the significant difference between socialism utopian and socialism scientific. The development of those forces of production, continuously revolutionizing techniques to the point that profit, production for exchange value, is undermined is critical, necessary to socialism
2. It’s explicit in Marx’s manuscripts that social development, the forces of production, can only advance with increased productivity in agriculture, removing the need for the bulk of the population to engage in agriculture.
3. The inability of capitalism to take “control” of agriculture does NOT mean a proletarian revolution can’t happen. It does mean the revolution is not going to produce socialist relations of production. The bourgeois class and the archaic remnants of pre-existing agricultural relations (i.e. landlords) can be overcome, dispersed, and eliminated in one country. The tasks of revolutionizing agriculture in order to free the population-that is to say, release greater portions of the society’s available labor time– cannot be ignored, dispersed, or dispensed with by the revolution, nor can those incomplete tasks resolve within the limits of the nation-state
4. If you have 80% of your population engaged in rural production, you have a poor society, one that is not able to devote labor time to social development, equality between agricultural and industrial workers. What you describe with the commune’s method of compensation is essentially a system of rationing.
5. Marx was wrong. Th Russian agricultural communes, as legal entity created by the Czar’s government could not have provided a basis for socialism. Productivity would never have reached he level necessary to sustain socialist relations between city and countryside.
6. I only refer to Bordiga’s fundamentally correct characterization of Stalin as the gravedigger of the revolution; first and foremost the prospects for international proletarian revolution, a role the fSU continues to play even after the abolition of the 3rd International. I do not think the fSU was “state capitalist.” What was the fSU? There are a lot of answers out there. My answer consists of saying what the fSU was NOT: it was not socialism; it was not state capitalist; the bureaucracy was not a class. Why wasn’t the fSU socialist? I think that’s self evident. Why wasn’t the fSU “state capitalist”? Because the means of production were not organized by and as exchange values, to be bought and sold. Why wasn’t the bureaucracy a “new class”? Because it did not introduce a mode of production that was unique to itself. It did not own the means of production.
7. Mao’s conception of China as socialist somehow experiences increased class struggle. How is that possible under socialism? What is the economic basis for class struggle, when socialism, to be achieved must do away with all classes by eliminating the conditions of labor that cause labor power to be presented as a commodity?
I shall be brief: The disappearance of classes demands the abolition of the difference between city and country. How is such to be achieved by for example moving 80% of the Chinese population into the cities?Is such sustainable.?Will there be jobs.? will there be enough food? Are not modern cities entropic black holes? According to Dr William Lees of ecological footprint fame, ‘ sustainable cities is an oxymoron’! At a webinar I took part in Bob Wallace of ”Big Farms `Make Big Flu” held that China could not feed such vast cities! It was when he came to study Russia that Marx came to jettison his previous adherence to Hegelian ”historic-philosophical theory of the universal path every people is fated to tread”( cf the discussion in J.D.White, ‘Marx and Russia: the Fate of a Doctrine” 2019).
”Mao’s conception of China as socialist somehow experiences increased class struggle. How is that possible under socialism? ” But this is only Mao’s interpretation as a applied to China of Marx’s famous ”Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of the transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this a political transition period in the political sphere …and the state can only take the form of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” ( Critique of the Gotha Programme) As I have pointed out, he argued that the expropriation of the property owning classes changed very little and everything else remained to be done to abolish class society and class struggle still existed. When he came back to power DengXiaoping affirmed that there was no class struggle in China, and immediately abolished the right to strike and the iron rice bowl, while bestowing on the Deng family and cronies golden rice bowls, not to mention claiming Marx was outdated and prohibting the Internationale. The abolition of class society, Mao echoed marx would take a whole historical era..It has not been the low level of the productive forces that has bedevilled socialist societies but the lack of democracy. Democracy originally meant the rule of those without resources. Were democracy to be introduced on the original model where the Government was chosen by lot that would be similar to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Political parties will never deliver socialism. They crystallise in 18th century England with the rise of capitalism, spread to Europe and the US with its further development in the 19th century, and to the rest of the world in the 20th. Cleary the political party is an institution that corresponds to the bourgeois mode of p[roduction. They are oligarchies, including the Communist ones.Here is a quote from Mao of 1966 that never appeared in the Little Red Book:”There are more than 100 communist parties in the world and most do not believe in it”! How can this be attributed to ”Stalinism” or some other ideological, historical thesis whose utility consists in being ahistorical? Does ‘Stalnism’ explain Ebert or Deng?
”Mao’s conception of China as socialist somehow experiences increased class struggle. How is that possible under socialism? ” But this is only Mao’s interpretation as a applied to China of Marx’s famous ”Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of the transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this a political transition period in the political sphere …and the state can only take the form of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” ( Critique of the Gotha Programme) As I have pointed out, he argued that the expropriation of the property owning classes changed very little and everything else remained to be done to abolish class society and class struggle still existed. When he came back to power DengXiaoping affirmed that there was no class struggle in China, and immediately abolished the right to strike and the iron rice bowl, while bestowing on the Deng family and cronies golden rice bowls, not to mention claiming Marx was outdated and prohibting the Internationale. The abolition of class society, Mao echoed Marx would take a whole historical era..It has not been the low level of the productive forces that has bedevilled socialist societies but the lack of democracy. Democracy originally meant the rule of those without resources. Were democracy to be introduced on the original model where the Government was chosen by lot that would be similar to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Political parties will never deliver socialism. They crystallise in 18th century England with the rise of capitalism, spread to Europe and the US with its further development in the 19th century, and to the rest of the world in the 20th. Cleary the political party is an institution that corresponds to the bourgeois mode of p[roduction. They are oligarchies, including the Communist ones.Here is a quote from Mao of 1966 that never appeared in the Little Red Book:”There are more than 100 communist parties in the world and most do not believe in it”! How can this be attributed to ”Stalinism” or some other ideological, historical thesis whose utility consists in being ahistorical? Does ‘Stalnism’ explain Ebert or Deng? Indeed, how does ‘Stalinism ‘explain the virulent anti-communism of some who were once Trotskyists? We need to look elsewhere!
JL: “How is such to be achieved by for example moving 80% of the Chinese population into the cities?Is such sustainable.? Will there be jobs.? will there be enough food? ”
I don’t claim to have every answer to every question, but the historical record of progress in human welfare is underpinned by the movement from countryside to cities. The historical record of concentrated poverty is also a record of movement in the cities. I certainly think that poverty is not a product of “urbanizatiion” but capitalist urbanization. There is no “natural” shortage of food in this world, and we don’t know the limits to land and labor productivity in agriculture, but it’s clear to me that the productivity in the US, where only 3% (if that) of the population is absorbed in farm activities is not a “one-off.”
As for entropy–when does the entropy spell imminent doom? When a city reaches a certain size, or when it reaches a certain size in relation to agriculture, which would mean that as long as agricultural output increases entropy can be forestalled, as entropy is forestalled in every human endeavor.
JL:”Mao’s conception of China as socialist somehow experiences increased class struggle. How is that possible under socialism? ” But this is only Mao’s interpretation as a applied to China of Marx’s famous ”Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of the transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this a political transition period in the political sphere …and the state can only take the form of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” ”
There is a difference between Mao’s transition where class struggle increases and Marx’s concept of DOP where class struggle is depleted, undermined as the bourgeois and proto-bourgeois elements are UNABLE to reproduce themselves socially, i.e as classes. If class struggle is growing, then the relations of production in Mao’s concept are not mediating a transition to socialism, the relations are not embodying the successful self-emancipation of the proletariat, and with that growing self-emancipation a withering away of class struggle.. Certainly, the international actions of capitalism contribute to this, but that gets us to the point which makes me consider Mao a “Stainist.” And that point is the practice that says “socialism can be achieved in one country”– not the DOP but full blown socialism.
Re democracy. I disagree. It is not the lack of “democracy” that has inhibited the transition to socialism. Modern democracy cannot exist under conditions of enforced rationing, scarcity, etc., where the world is subordinated to the capitalist mode of production. It is the lack, and sabotaging of international revolution that has damaged the prospects for democracy by preserving the low level of productivity in countries where social revolution has occurred.
”There is a difference between Mao’s transition where class struggle increases and Marx’s concept of DOP where class struggle is depleted, undermined as the bourgeois and proto-bourgeois elements are UNABLE to reproduce themselves ” But such an ahistorical thesis is exactly what Marx rejected. How could Marx have known what forms class struggle would take in future societies? Let us consider the historical context. When Khruschev became leader of the USSR he declared that there was no class struggle; there existed only the workers, peasants and intelligentsia. Consequently, the CP was the party of the whole people and the state was the state of the whole people. Yet the Soviet press itself offered many examples of Factory managers with the support of party secretaries running the factories as personal fiefdoms and appropriating the surplus value of the workers. Russia is now capitalist and we agree on what direction China is headed. If these are not increased class struggles waged by the new rising bourgeoisie what are such struggles indicative of?
I think part of the problem lies in Marx’s mistaken introduction of a lower stage of communism. It seems best to theorise a transitional stage between capitalism and communism without this so-called lower stage that Lenin identified as socialism.. Without democracy I cannot envisage how relations of production can be transformed Further, I do not perceive why the low level of productivity in any way should impede the introduction of democracy. The ancient Athenians did well with a very low level of productivity, and we have the Internet. Of course democracy cannot exist under capitalism, but elements of it can be advanced as part of a socialist programme e.g. that all major decisions be put to referenda. Should the Bourgeoisie reject this, then such exposes them. Unfortunately, there are those comrades still in thrall to the concept of the leading role of the Leninist Party. As one leading socialist told me here: political matters like e.g. taxation are too complicated for the people to vote on. So apparently any cook cannot run the state. We apparently need political experts like Lenin and co. Plato would be proud!
The ancient Athenians did very well with a lower level of productivity? Sortition notwithstanding, the slaves, the women and so-called foreigners (“metics”) did not do well. The perception they did well for then is correct, but using them as models for today is problematic, as they say. Your thinking is warped.
If you must bring up Lenin, if you don’t ask, democracy for who?, you aren’t thinking. At a guess, unlike Lenin, Plato would never have thought ordinary people could become philosophers. While Lenin may have exaggerated the simplicity of administration, Lenin did believe that ordinary people could in fact conform their opinions to truth, aka necessity, thereby making themselves free. After all, that is one aspect of the very notion of a vanguard party, the ordinary people who see through the commodity fetishism, see the class nature of the state, accept the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, enact the general will in planning the economy and so on. It may be hard to accept that having your whims fulfilled doesn’t make even an individual free, much less the society.
As for the notion that “democracy” is necessary to change the relations of production? This is an idea that also finds expression in Pareto’s notion of an optimum, where everything is best because you can’t improve anyone else’s position without harming someone else’s position. The change in relations of production are class struggle. But every notion of democracy that abstracts from class is misleading at best, but more commonly simply fraudulent. All state actions can potentially defy the will of local pluralities (which always conceive themselves to be majorities, as in the ancient Athens you extol.) But I think Pareto was consciously anti-Socialist. And copying Pareto’s approach is accepting his values.
“The ancient Athenians did well [re democracy] with a very low level of productivity, and we have the Internet.”
I’m not so sure about that given the existence of slavery and the exclusion of women from participation in politics and/or access to education.
”I’m not so sure about that given the existence of slavery and the exclusion of women from participation in politics and/or access to education.” I did not express myself clearly. I meant that the institution of democracy functioned well for its purpose, which was to grant power to those without resources ( hoi aporoi) and hold the oligarchs in check. Athenisn democracy was only overthrown by outside military intervention.. I think we can make use of its practices in the modern world. ( I include Steven in this reply. Apologies in advance.
Finally, my reasons for rejecting the ‘productive forces thesis of socialism are laid out inKohei Saito’s latest book ””Marx in the Anthropocene.”This is a further extension of his Japanese book”’Hitoshinsei no Shihonron,” which has sold 500, 000 copies in Japan This is such an important question that I hope Michael will address it in a future post.. What I did find surprising is that while Saito mentioned ever so many western Marxists, he never addressed any Chinese ideas about socialism. When I lived in Japan the Chinese weekly ”Peking Review”” was on sale and it regularly carried articles denouncing ‘the productive forces theory of socialism.” When DengXiaoping returned such denunciations were in turn denounced. Recall that the overcoming of the difference or even antagonism of city and country was regarded by Marx and Engels as one of the main tasks of socialsm. William Morris also wrote on this. Saito mentions him once. Strange then that he never mentions Mao and co, who were carrying out the abolition of the differences between city and country by the industrialisation of the countryside and the introduction of medical care and education. So in my opinion the Chinese Commune offered one road to socialism Of course there are no doubt other ideas for the organisation of a socialist agriculture, but they have to be concrete. We cannot get away with generalities. All the more remarkable that Saito did not address the greatest practical attempt so to do: a kind of Orientalism? The current Chinese regime of course intend to introduce capitalist-style industrial agriculture. Very productive, especially of surplus value. But is such a model of society sustainable? As once Marx responded to his daughters on being challenged by them on what an aristocratic old man like him would do when the revolution broke out,”Thank God I will not be around to see it”!
The modified defense of Athenian democracy makes at least makes superficial sense. It is of course exactly the same defense of bourgeois democracy versus all forms of socialism everywhere at any time. The objection that democracy only fails because of outside intervention bears an unfortunate resemblance to the objections that historically real (as opposed to imaginary) forms of socialism have been under siege every moment of their existence. It is still obvious that such a claim in regard to socialist countries is dismissed out of hand by the original thinkers here, though, so this is just a misleading lapse, akin to momentarily forgetting women, slaves and metics?
The other democracies in ancient Greece and Ionia and Magna Graecia had a much more checkered career by the way.
One reason for the relatively greater success of Athenian democracy however was its imperial success. Democracy was then as now, a system that masked class domination under an ideal of class collaboration (though the modern version tends more toward a pretense of classlessness.) The purpose was to conquer, swearing it was “US vs Them,” them being the enemy du jour. In Athens, as a naval power, there was a premium on more skilled labor, not just in navigation but in rowing. The rowers in galleys were necessary to Athens’ empire. Men who could not afford the expensive panoply of armor (much less a horse!) still could make a contribution, thus “Athens” needed them to have a franchise (and wages too, often.)
The presumption that democracy, at least true democracy, is antithetical to empire, is false to the core, both in ancient times and in modern. We cannot correctly accuse previous democrats, whether some ancient Athenian or an American revolutionary like George Washington of not being true democrats. The implication that “we” can choose to be true democrats eschewing imperialism is a swindle. Imperialism is not a one-time flaw that moral reformation can do away with.
At this point, I’m afraid my response becomes repetitious of previous answers, so I’ll try to brief:
JL: “I meant that the institution of democracy functioned well for its purpose, which was to grant power to those without resources ( hoi aporoi) and hold the oligarchs in check. Athenisn democracy was only overthrown by outside military intervention.. I think we can make use of its practices in the modern world. ( I include Steven in this reply. Apologies in advance.”
Maybe, but I think the more important lesson is that Athenian democracy required, was based upon, unfree unequal compelled and UNREPRESENTED labor. Without the “development of the productive forces” such democracy exists to protect those relations of unfree labor. One might just as well argue that the US republic functioned well for its purpose 1820-1850– if you ignore slavery, the fugitive slave acts, the war against Mexico, etc. etc.
JL:Finally, my reasons for rejecting the ‘productive forces thesis of socialism are laid out inKohei Saito’s latest book ””Marx in the Anthropocene.”
Have not read the book. I can only comment on what you have presented, and it appears to me that you are rejecting “the baby with the bath water” here. Tt’s not a “productive forces” thesis of socialism existing as an abstraction that Marx develops, but rather in the concrete i.e. as historical materialism that provides an analysis of the relations of classes as embodied in the mode of production.
The organization of labor supporting specific property forms propels and compels the ruling class to appropriate greater quantities of that labor power . The expansion of the mode reaches the point when the property relations, the weapon for expropriating that labor, becomes an obstacle to further expansion, and the existing burden of the means of production undermines the property form.
Without that recognition, that interaction of means as a product of the mode, I don’t see how you can explain why events, struggles, occur as they do and when they do. For example why didn’t the US Civil War occur in 1820 or 1830 or 1840 or even 1850? How and why do stresses accumulate in a society and how are they made manifest?
What is the explanation for the success of the Chinese revolution in 1949 but not 1929? Why indeed was capitalism never able to penetrate rural production in China?
At some point, rejecting “forces of production” leaves us with arbitrariness and the substitution of moral descriptions like “will” or “great men” in place of class relations. It is the interactions of forces, of classes, that translate critique into the materiality of history.
I really wish that you are right and I am wrong.
I have to apologize to stevenjohnson for misinterpreting his position regarding Mao, the cultural revolution/great leap forward… No self-contradicting zig-zagging on these questions or in his general view of China’s predicament (with which I agree).
There’s no need to apologize. Unfortunately, as long-winded as I can be, it’s still not enough to communicate all my thoughts. Even if they were that interesting, I’m a terrible writer and couldn’t express myself very well even for those who never tl;dr.
Personally I have issues with Mao’s fairly consistent opposition to the Soviet Union as primary enemy. (If anything, this seems to be the common ground between Liu, Deng and company, a major reason they wouldn’t and couldn’t get rid of Mao after the Great Leap Forward.) And I do tend to see Mao’s maneuvers in the later period as attempts to politically revolutionize the party without destroying the workers’ state, maneuvers that are not to be condemned as “zig zags” in the Kautskyan manner. I can think of many criticisms of Mao, petty, significant and idiosyncratic, just as I can think of many criticisms of other historical figures I admire. Nonetheless I esteem them overall very highly. Marx praised Lincoln but he was socialist and Lincoln wasn’t. Ritual vilification of dead communists always expresses hostility to living workers in my experience.
For those who didn’t know or bother to Google, the quote defending tactical flexibility in my direct comment on the original post by Michael Roberts was by Leon Trotsky (his booklet Dictatorship Vs. Democracy, aka Terrorism and Communism, a sort of companion piece to Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky.) Trotsky was picked because of the favorite tactic of mindlessly copying “Trotsky.” I saw your brief exchange on the Planning Motive blog about Xi’s report to the congress after, but that sort of dogmatic revision of history was implicitly criticized.
There are two types of desperate people, the younger ones who carry discredit along with immaturity or the old ones, who are tired of fighting.
However, it was not in two centuries that capitalism defeated feudalism, and it will not be in less time that capitalism will be defeated.
The PS I meant to address vk applies here. The development of productive forces on a global scale has created stresses on the biosphere that will prevent capitalism in any sense we understand it from surviving another two centuries. It’s on its way out, one way or the other. The economic decay, the inability to recover much less progress, is already apparent to those who will look.
Nonetheless, the political/military defeat of imperialism will not take two centuries. Feudal serfdom was *strengthened* in some parts of Europe after the Black Death and vestiges survived, maybe arguably still survive. But feudalism was “defeated” as early as the triumph of the Dutch revolution. The Puritan Revolution predated/laid the foundations for the Industrial Revolution so often misconceived as the rise of capitalism. The fulfilment of the promise of capitalism is what took centuries. (I think the precision is useful here.)
Similarly the fulfilment of the promise of socialism will in the end take centuries. Michel Pablo was roundly condemned for observing there will be centuries of deformed states, but this is merely a truism. (The question was whether such a platitude could serve as a good guide to current strategy and tactics.) And similarly I think the defeats of imperialism/fascism/capitalism/bourgeois democracy must lay the foundations for a similarly prolonged process of remaking the world.
Or another way to put it is, still, China’s GDP (especially when you think per capita GDP) is no grounds for complacency.
Capitalism didn’t defeat Feudalism, nor Communism shall prevail because it shall defeat Capitalism. Things happen when they are mature to happen; the way humans live morph from one way to another when it’s time for it to morph.
History is the gradual unfolding of the Geist (Spirit), that is, humanity unconsciously but persistently looking for its emancipation.
Really? Geist? “humanity unconsciously looking for emancipation”?? Got any examples of that in history? What was unconscious about the Haitian Revolution? The Convention in the French Revolution? And the Committee of Public Safety? And Babeuf’s Conspiracy of Equals? The mass movement of slaves to Union lines during the US Civil War? The Russian Revolution?
Marx overturns “Geist” with historical materialism. There is no Geist. There is the conflict between laborers and the conditions of their labors., meaning the social relations of production, the social mediation, becomes antithetical to the impulse of labor itself– to secure, satisfy, and enhance human needs.
I have made a review of your book.