'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Chinese Face of Neoliberalism 

On July 17th, I posted an entry entitled, High Tech Feudalism with Chinese Characteristics, a title taken from a comment by a Chinese sociologist. I was inspired to write the post after reading a fascinating article by Peter Kwong, an Asian American Studies professor at the City College of New York, an article in which Kwong explained that China, in the immediate period after the arrest of the Gang of Four, was one of the first countries to adopt neoliberal economic practices, creating a uniquely oppressive social system by fusing the Chinese variant of authoritarian Marxist vanguardism with deregulation and incentives for foreign investment.

During the course of this post, I cited Kwong's article, having received it as a Counterpunch newsletter subscriber, and even typed out a brief quote from it, but could not link to it, as it was not available on the Internet at that time. Now, Cockburn and St. Claire, the Counterpunch editors, have posted on it on the web side of the operation, and I recommend it highly.

An excerpt, more detailed than the abbrieviated one that I referenced on July 17th:

For China and its communist leaders to come this far it has been a long, hard road that started in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping took control of the country. Deng had been purged from the party leadership as "China's No. 2 Capitalist Roader" during the Cultural Revolution on account of his pro-private enterprise leanings, because he had advocated that the peasants be allowed private plots within the people's communes to earn extra income. After Mao's death, Deng kicked off his version of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" with the maxim that individual initiatives must be allowed to flourish in order to increase productivity. His most notable slogan of the time was to "let some get rich first, so others can get rich later", openly condoning the inequality that would result from his reform process. If this sounds like Ronald Reagan's neo-liberal "trickle down economics," it's because that's exactly what it is: both Ronald Reagan and Deng Xiaoping were great fans of the neo-liberal guru Milton Friedman.

In 1980, I was a visiting professor at the People's University in Beijing, which was at the time the elite party cadre training school. In October of that year, the chair of my Scientific Socialism Department informed me that I was given the unique honor, as a China-born foreign expert teaching social sciences, to attend a lecture at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that was to be given by the Nobel Laureate and America's best selling author of Free to Choose, Milton Friedman. When I arrived at the majestic conference hall, Friedman was already sitting at the dais, flanked by top Communist Party leaders and ministerial-level officials. His lecture focused on the inflationary crisis in the West, but his message to the Chinese was clear: inflation and slow growth are the results of intrusive government policies that hinder the functioning of a free market economy. To turn their economies around, countries had to cut taxes, shrink the size of the governments, and reduce labor costs. Friedman predicted that in November of that year his friend Ronald Reagan would be elected U.S. president and that he would enact policies according to that vision. He also prophesied that Ronald Reagan and Great Britain's Margaret Thatcher would lead the rest of the world into the promised land of growth and prosperity.

The industrialization of China under such extreme conditions presents consequences for the rest of the world that cannot be readily dismissed, as I observed in my first blog foray into this subject:

Like much of the rest of the world, China is a turbulent society, as the globalization process, combined with a corrupt, autocratic political system, intensifies income disparities between rich urbanites and poor peasants. . . . Meanwhile, China has been described as a unique, contentious zone of cultural synergy arising from the intersection of pre-modern, modern and post-modern values as China enters the global marketplace. If anything, for an American like myself, it echoes what has been transpiring in Mexico. Could it be possible that the left must prevail within the sweatshops, academia and culture industries of countries like these in order to overcome the imperial neo-conservative vision?

If anything, the question has become more urgent with the passage of time, as highlighted by Kwong's article. Unfortunately, Isabel Hilton's lengthy exposition, Made in China, based upon compelling first hand experience, remains unavailable.

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