I've just read this in Stalin's British Victims (pub: Sutton) by Francis Beckett: "In theory, communism is a generous and fair-minded creed, which rejects, for good reason, the poverty amid plenty which is the hallmark of capitalism."
That just about sums up my sympathy for a system which was supposed to have eradicated poverty and a class system that privileges a tiny bloated section of humanity at the expense of everyone else. This is an ideal worth fighting for but I'll get onto the provisos later on.
An article by Heiko Khoo has just been published marking the Chinese Communist Party at 90, in which the author goes back to basics and attempts to provide an accessible overview of the present economic crisis in the West.
Forged in the fire of the early 20th century when China was a third world nation on its knees having suffered numerous invasions by imperialist powers — and with the fledgling Soviet Union appearing to be a progressive force in the world that would liberate the international proletariat from capitalism — the Chinese Communist Party was formed in 1921. Like so many communist parties around the world, it took its confidence from the Soviet model. However, it eventually split from the Soviet template and avoided disintegrating as the USSR did after its fall in 1989. China's subsequent embrace of a hybrid communism with a capitalist engine, something George Orwell might have dubbed one of his "Barnum & Bailey monstrosities", was a deft turn that allowed China to powerhouse its economy but at great immediate cost to the workers and peasants it was supposed to represent.
The current onslaught on Western working and middle-classes to pay for the crisis of the banks is persuading many of us through hard experience that a planned economy such as China employs is preferable to the chaos of the free market. Our pensionable age is rising, rail commuters are having to pay a third of their salary just for the privilege of getting to work despite a worsening service, public housing stocks have shrunk or stagnated while lowered welfare payments means an expected exodus of the poor from our cities as they are priced out of the housing market. And as one radio interviewee put it, Nye Bevan got the doctors on board for the creation of the NHS by stuffing gold into their mouths — the ConDem coalition is prising the gold from their teeth and stuffing it into the pockets of NHS privateers.
As Khoo writes:
Capitalist states, no matter how democratic, systematically favor the private sector out of ideological choice, which corresponds to the material interests of the ruling class. Thus widespread fraud and recklessness by private banks before 2008 was rewarded by transferring their debts onto the shoulders of the working classes of Europe and the United States.
It's not as if the money isn't there. At the same time as we are daily assailed by the "Big Society" lie that it we are all in together, and that our rights and share of national wealth have to be carved up, we see reports of a Bernie Ecclestone daughter buying a £56 million house, Hyde Park flats going for tens of millions, the Sunday Times rich list revealing the accelerating wealth of the super-rich, supermarkets posting record profits, and so on. Britain is a haven for low or non-tax payers while the tax burden grows for the rest of us.
Without a successful communist model to tempt western workers, the gloves are off and the capitalist elite is clawing back everything we gained after World War II. Yet China's example seems to reinforce the capitalist argument. A bloated Chinese ruling class may be emerging from the work done by their communist predecessors, but the proletariat is also gaining, albeit at a slower rate than the yuan billionaires now hoovering up the national wealth.
Khoo goes on to write, and this is one area where I take issue :
What the CPC has shown since Deng Xiaoping initiated reform and opening of the economy is that capitalist forces can be kept in check by the increasing strength of the working class. For every capitalist born there are tens and hundreds of workers. A key question confronting modern Chinese communism is how can workers exercise democratic control over productive forces and realize their constitutional rights as masters of the state?
The CCP, whatever its origins and noble intentions, is not synonymous with the Chinese working class. Many would argue it never was. There seems to be a major contradiction in the first sentence of the paragraph: capitalist forces can be kept in check by effectively strengthening it? Where is the "checking" coming from? Although China attempted to relax its trade union rights in 2006, lobbying by the American Chamber of Commerce, supported by the EU, and I'm sure to the satisfaction of swathes of the Chinese leadership, terminated the reforms. It is only recently that strike action outside the official trade unions have exerted enough pressure to gain concessions.
Chinese workers and peasants have lost many rights under the auspices of the CCP. Job security, housing and health have all suffered, as well as the all-round emotional, intellectual development that socialism was supposed to bring, although the new sweatshop factories are slowly raising wages and leading to a burst in consumerism. The straight-jacketing of thinking through the imprisonment of dissident intellectuals, the abandonment of political ideals and an adherence to feudal Confucian attitudes have hamstrung Chinese society. The mega-blogger Han Han is held up as an example of freethinking in China, but how much of what this racing-driver playboy has to say is an expression of an old dispossessed elite flexing its muscle and getting ready to displace what little vestigial socialism there is left?
If we are to build a society that is fairer to all, crucial problems need addressing. The Chinese communists were right to combat imperialist aggression as well as aiming for the construction of a classless society. They have succeeded in raising an estimated 600 million people out of absolute poverty and doubled life expectations. Khoo's document is a sharp reminder that there is a better way to be, but it remains a Platonic ideal while there is such a disjuncture between stated aim and actuality.
The CCP represents the new ruling class. I do not agree that "some have to get rich so everyone can get rich", as espoused by the Deng Xiaoping group who welcomed Milton Friedman into their midst in 1989, shortly before cracking down on the protests in Tiananmen Square. Neither am I impressed with the vast accumulation of wealth by the children of the former apparatchiks who ran state assets and who are now billionaires. China was one of the most hopeful social experiments ever conducted in the crucible of war, famine and a host of calamities and yet its leadership now presides over an increase in inequality. How to get it back to its ideals so that it is serving all its people and not just the few is the big challenge. A redistributive tax to make the new wealth work for the whole population, welfare protection for the poorest, and a curb on obscene syphoning off of wealth made from what were once state assets and labour exploitation would be a good start. Let's hope the working class, all 450 million of them, starts to flex its muscles.
Right now, China does not fire the imagination of international movements looking to build a better world. It does not represent a model for workers across the globe, only for the capitalist class who are looking on the new superpower with envy and resentment.
Professor Gregor Benton adds:
A report released by China’s central bank said corrupt Chinese officials smuggled an estimated $123.6 billion out of the country over a 15-year period. Apparently 17,000 Communist party cadres, police, judicial officers and state-owned enterprise executives fled the country between the mid-1990s and 2008. Higher-ranking officials who absconded with money had the ÛS as their favourite destination, followed by Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. Those who couldn't get visas went to eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa, to await a chance to remigate to a 'better' destination. Lower-ranking officials went to countries bordering China, or to Hong Kong. For those who read Chinese, the report is abridged here.