Not an easy job

Around the left

One of the most important - and fascinating - questions facing our movement concerns China. This vast country, with it rich and complex history, needs to studied and investigated in a serious, non-dogmatic manner. Is it a (degenerate or non-degenerate) workers’ state? A moribund workers’ state? Is it state capitalist or none of the above?

Any conclusions we come to must have implications for present day political practice.

Members of the Morning Star’s so-called Communist Party of Britain recently visited China as part of a delegation “invited by the Communist Party of China” (Morning Star October 8). This delegation comprised John Haylett, the paper’s editor, general secretary Mike Hicks, national chairman Richard Maybin and the Morning Star chief executive, Mary Rosser.

To use diplomatic parlance, the ageing CPBers were engaged on a ‘fact-finding’ mission. As everything reported in the Morning Star corresponds to official news agency releases, you wonder why they bothered wasting the Chinese tax-payer’s very hard earned money. But the real motivation is not too hard to divine - a desperate need to sell their services.

Therefore, everything has to be hunky-dory in China. Just as it was in the Soviet Union - before it collapsed. Just as it was in East Germany - before it too collapsed. Now very little remains of the ‘socialist’ world ... but there are those in China who need a ‘socialist’ veneer to cover their restoration of capitalism.

The inconvenient fact that organisations like the CPB - perhaps even members of the Morning Star delegation itself - had not that long ago denounced China for being ‘feudal fascist’ - or something equally daft - is long forgotten.

Today, however, comrade Haylett is filled with enthusiasm for China’s ‘actually existing socialism’. “Old Shanghai is no longer a backwater, but a bustling ultra-modern hive of business and industry,” John Haylett breathlessly informs us.

“The city, with an official population of 14,190,000 and an estimated three million more workers moving in and out of Shanghai on short-term contracts, has become a vast arena of construction, with 10,000 separate buildings and 20% of the world’s high-rise cranes within its area” (October 8).

Of course it is no accident that Shanghai has “20% of the world’s high-rise cranes within its area”. Absolutely not. The development outlined above “proceeds according to a master plan and each of the district’s sub-zones ... has its own detailed development plan.”

Haylett comments on Beijing’s “strategic decision to seek to attract foreign investment”. This means that “over 60 major transnational corporations have sunk funds” into the Pudong district of Shanghai - also mentioning that “investments from Britain are highest among the EU countries, with British banks having an involvement among the nine foreign banks to have set up operations”.

Similarly, Haylett applauds the “ground-breaking initiatives” being taken in the Henan province. One of these “initiatives” was the setting up of a stock exchange - well, of sorts - in the city of Zhenzhou. In the diplomatic words of Haylett:

“Although British socialists, mindful of the economic blows felt by workers as a result of the vagaries of markets, may be sceptical of the benefits of a commodity exchange, those who run it see the exchange as a vital component of China’s socialist market system.

“They see it as providing a national commodity information network to compile a wholesale price index and to thereby influence production plans and circulation of agricultural products.”

The report continues:

“‘We are a non-profit organisation,’ Mr Li [stock exchange president] stresses, adding that the exchange charges a trading commission of 0.02 percent on each contract to finance its operations and 200 staff, including 130 dealers.

“Deals are struck over computer terminals rather than the open bidding on the exchange floor that might be expected” (October 10).

John Haylett also examines the “role of the trade unions in building a new socialist society for every Chinese citizen” (October 16). There does not appear to be any role at all for independent trade unions. The ‘reforms’ have “forced unions to change their structures and methods in order to meet the new economic challenges”, he points out. Haylett quotes Tang Guo Cai, the Shanghai municipal trade union council vice-chairman, to the effect that “unions have had to cope with a new labour law that was enacted two years ago and to negotiate annual contracts with joint-venture enterprises and other companies”. This is something trade unionists in Britain are not entirely unfamiliar with - ie, sweat-shop bosses attempting to impose short-term and casual/temporary contracts on workers.

Something they may not be so familiar with - perhaps - is how the Chinese unions are organised. Haylett enlightens us:

“Apart from the representative on full-time release, each workplace also elects a union committee. Zho Bib Tu, who is the union chairman at Shanghai Bell joint venture, explains the procedure in his factory as, first, getting workers to join the union, then asking members to make nominations and then electing 15 out of the number nominated. The committee chooses a union chairperson, whose name is submitted for approval by the workplace Party committee.

“Although this procedure would be alien to British trade unionism, Mr Zho explains that the trade unions accept the leading role of the Communist Party in Chinese society and work under the political leadership of the appropriate Party committee” (my emphasis).

We were promised at the end of this article that in his final report John Haylett would examine the “problems that are associated with China’s reform programme and look at possible remedies”. Unfortunately, he does no such thing.

“Trying to come to grips with what lies ahead for China’s attempts to build a socialist market economy is not an easy job,” says Haylett. In which case it is so much easier not to bother at all and take refuge in ‘official communist’ sound bites instead.

This spirit of determined non-investigation ensures that Haylett rejects the assertion of John Street of Tribune, that China’s reforms involve “Thatcherite economics enforced with a Stalinist policing method”. Haylett responds: “Anyone recalling Mrs Thatcher’s assault on Britain’s welfare state would be hard pushed to equate that with China’s plans to actually build a welfare state” (October 20).

It has to be said that John Haylett is forced to admit that not everything is 100% rosy in China’s ‘socialist’ garden - but then again, so do the CPC bureaucrats on a good day. For instance, the “introduction of market mechanisms has made possible growth of incomes for the many and spectacular gains for the few - not all of it honestly come by”. Then there is the “vexed question of economic corruption”. Most regrettably, there has been a “recurrence of drug abuse and prostitution - both of which had previously been eradicated”. On top of this, “other forms of anti-social behaviour, including vandalism, hooliganism and theft have also increased”.

Haylett also confesses: “The break from egalitarianism has drawn attention to levels of deprivation in some areas of the country.”

But not to fear: “Official figures that designated 250 million as living in poverty in 1978 identify just 58 million today and the government aims to eliminate poverty by the end of the century.”

After giving the thumbs up the CPC’s “patriotic education” drive last year, Haylett cheerfully - and hopefully - argues: “China is attempting to find its own way forward, without mindlessly copying other countries’ experience or relying on the text books for a guide.”

In the best spirit of ‘internationalism’, comrade Haylett concludes by quoting the brilliant words of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions secretariat member, Li Younghai. He

“says that the socialist market economy elaborated by Deng Xiaoping is completely new and he likens what his country is doing to someone ‘crossing a river by feeling for stones of the river bed. There’s nothing about it in the Marxist classics. It was not considered by Marx or even Smith, Keynes or Samuelson. No road exists yet but, if enough people walk on a path, it can become a road’.”

The wonderful irony is that China is being “opened up to the world” and is rejecting an “autarkic perspective of development”, as Haylett puts it, precisely because of the impossibility of building national socialism. For the bureaucrats ensconced in Beijing - safely or otherwise - there is indeed no alternative to the capitalist global economy. Yet the moribund CPB shouts ‘Viva China!’ ... and then continues to dream of constructing ‘socialism’ within the narrow confines of the British nation state. China wants to buy into the world, while the CPB - along with the SLP - wants to pull out of the EU.

Don Preston