China Debate Flares Anew Over Capitalist Course

Tuesday, 18 December 2007 19:00 Nellie Wong Editorial Dept - Asia
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 Over the past three years, a fresh burst of criticism has arisen in China over the trek toward neoliberal capitalist restoration, especially among Chinese Communist Party veterans and prominent intellectuals. The spark for much of the discussion is a new property law, more than 10 years in the making, passed by the national legislature in March and due to take effect in October - the same month as the next five-year congress of the CP.

This renewed spate of energetic comment follows a period after the mid-1990s during which it seemed that debate in official circles over the country's course of economic "reform" was effectively over.

Since that time, however, the harsh results of the transition back to capitalism for China's 1.3 billion people have become ever more clear. Protests by workers and peasants have grown steadily, reaching an officially reported average of 240 every day by 2005.


And these grass-roots protests are once again stirring vocal dissent by writers and university teachers, especially in Beijing, and some members of the ruling bureaucracy. As a group, these high-profile critics of the country's traumatic capitalist course are often misleadingly called China's "New Left."
 

Secret scheming and public denunciations. The property law is designed to protect foreign investors and China's burgeoning capitalist class by putting private property on an equal legal footing with state-owned assets for the first time. Critics say it also provides cover for the corrupt tactics of officials who are making fortunes from the massive transfer of wealth from public to private hands that is taking place.

The National Congress passed the measure 2,799 to 52, with 37 abstentions. Even this demonstrates the impact of the debate, as the legislature's votes are ordinarily unanimous.

Opposition to the draft law among old-guard CP members first surfaced publicly with a sharp critique circulated on the internet during the summer of 2005 and written by Gong Xiantian, 62, a professor at Beijing University Law School. Gong castigated the legislation's authors for "copying capitalist civil law like slaves," giving the same legal protections to "a rich man's car and a beggar man's stick," and dropping the principle of the inviolability of socialized property.

Dissension was further spurred after a secret Beijing meeting in March 2006 of "capitalist roaders" that included economists, legal experts and government figures, most of them CP members and many of them officials with the State Commission for Restructuring the Economy. A leaked transcript of their discussions making its way onto the internet revealed an apparent strategy session for building a final coffin for China as a workers state.

Notably, some participants were chafing at the fact that capitalist restorationists are still obliged to sell their program under the old cover of building "socialism with Chinese characteristics."

Defenders of socialism countered with a forum in April attended by academics and longtime CP members and organized by the operators of the website Mao Zedong Flag (www.maoflag.net , Chinese language). One of their demands was that the government "open the books" and regularly release economic data about the pace of privatization.

This gathering was followed by many other forums discussing China&rsquos path, while documents, manifestos and tirades against specific corrupt officials circulated on the internet and even via text-messaging on cell phones.

Besides Gong Xiantian, some of the most well-known critics of capitalist reimposition, or at least its shock-therapy methods, include economists Yang Fang and Zuo Dapei, both with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; economist and former CASS deputy chief Liu Guoguang; former chief of the National Bureau of Statistics Li Chengrui; Ji Baocheng, president of Renmin University in Beijing (also known as the People's University); Lang Xianping, U.S.-educated radio personality and teacher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; economist Han Deqiang of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and Wang Hui, a language and literature professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Ferment at the bottom. Despite the flow of debate, the October CP congress is likely to proceed according to plan. And that plan, exemplified in the person of President Hu Jintao, is to continue to maintain a delicate balance between pushing forward with capitalist economic reforms on the one hand while addressing rampant corruption and growing inequality on the other.

But this is impossible.

The influx of foreign capital and the privatization of state-owned enterprises benefits only a small number of owners and of CP officials and their children, the princelings. For the majority, it has led to increased poverty, with workers being paid little and late or not at all.

Migrants - women, men and children alike - have abandoned rural farm communities and flooded the big cities and super-exploitative "special economic zones" on the coasts in search of jobs. Women who can't find work are turning out of desperation to prostitution, which disappeared after the 1949 revolution.

Despite state repression and the lack of democratic organizations, workers and peasants persist in protesting these conditions. This summer has seen a courageous wave of strikes that includes a walkout by over 5,000 factory workers in Shenzhen to oppose an increase in hours without an increase in pay.

The hope for a return to a better path for China does not lie with the old-guard warriors of the CP, most of whom still cling to the failed Stalinist ideology of "socialism in one country" even when they denounce the "market romanticism" that is taking its place. It lies instead with working people like the Shenzhen strikers. And what they need - what they have always needed - is support for their struggles by internationalist-minded workers around the world.

And the most crucial backing will come from workers in the highly developed countries like the U.S., whose policies mean life or death for inhabitants of the rest of the globe. It is this solidarity that will enable Chinese working men and women to launch a coordinated fight to assert their immense power and reclaim their revolution.

Nellie Wong is a San Francisco poet, eloquent spokeswoman for socialist feminism, and past traveler to China, where her family originates.

Courtesy of the Freedom Socialist group



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