Saturday, 3 July 2010

Chinese Workers And The State - Part 1

Strikes In China

Over recent months there has been a wave of strikes in China. At a number of factories such as Honda and Foxconn, workers are demanding pay rises of 50%. There have been similar waves of industrial action in the past, but largely the Chinese State apparatus, and media has made sure that they were hushed up, crushed and generally hidden from world public view. What is different about the current strikes is that not only are they not being hushed up, not only are they not being crushed by the Chinese State, but, on the contrary, they are being publicised in the State media, and the Chinese leadership have come out in support of the strikers! What does this change signify? What does it tell us about the nature of the Chinese State today, and from that, what does it tell us about the nature of the Chinese State in the past?

Marx said that it was impossible to understand Man by studying the Ape, but it was possible to understand the Ape by studying Man. In other words it is only by seeing things in their more mature, developed stage, that we can understand the stages already gone through. If we can understand something now of the nature of the current Chinese State, that in turn might tell us something about the state created by Mao and his supporters. Moreover, given that understanding it might tell us something about the State, which formed the model used by Mao, the Stalinist State in the USSR.

The first thing that can be said about the current Chinese State is that it cannot be described as any kind of Socialism, let alone Communism. The basic requirements of such a State – ownership of the means of production by the working class in one form or another, and the withering away of commodity production – clearly form no part of current Chinese reality. On the contrary, in the last 20 years or so, there has been a massive increase in private, capitalist ownership of the means of production, and commodity production has increased inexorably. But, on its own this does not tell us anything about the class nature of the Chinese State. There is no immediate transition between Capitalism and Socialism, but only a lengthy period of transition, signified by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, meaning not a political dictatorship as we have come to understand it in its twentieth century meaning, but meaning the economic and social domination of the working class. Such a period can last for several generations, and be characterised by intense class struggle, as the workers seek to translate their economic and social power, manifested in the growing preponderance of their Co-operative and Collective property, into political power exercised through the State, and through new political institutions growing up on the back of the new social relations. That has been the case with all previous revolutions, and there have been many cases where the State power has not corresponded to either the dominant economic class, and/or the class exercising political power through the political institutions.

A classic example, of that was the Tsarist state in Russia. In all of his writings in the 1890's, and early 1900's, Lenin was clear that the dominant economic class was the bourgeoisie. In his debates with the Narodniks Lenin emphasised that the Russian State was a Capitalist State. Its actions were guided by the need to protect and develop Capitalist property relations in Russia. And yet, Lenin at the same time argued that a bourgeois political revolution was needed in Russia against Tsarism. In other words he recognised the difference between the Political regime of Tsarism, which still represented the past, feudal society, and the State, which already represented the future, bourgeois society. That is a proper use if the Marxist dialectic, an application of the idea that the truth is always concrete. The theory of Historical Materialism demonstrates how the material conditions existing in society, the productive relations by which man creates his means of existence, are shaped by the tools available to him at any specific point in history. These productive relations, in turn lead to the development of different economic and social classes in society, which are reproduced by the very working of the economic system, and in turn the relations between these classes, the social relations, determine which class/es dominate and which are dominated. In turn that determines the kinds of property laws etc., the kind of political and legal institutions that are required to regulate these relations, and to protect the position of the rulers. But, it is not a mechanical relationship, it is not a determinist theory, and, indeed, the superstructure of laws and institutions, themselves become a powerful material force that can act back on the economic and social relations.

As Engels put it in his letter to Bloch,

“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree....

In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.”


Engels To Bloch September 21 1890

It is quite conceivable, then, that even given the existence of extensive Capitalist property in China, and extensive commodity production, the class nature of the State in China, COULD be defined as a Workers' State. What is important, as Engels statement above emphasises, and as Lenin's analysis of the Tsarist State shows, is what are the dominant ideas reflected in the State, the interests of what class predominate in those ideas? And, generally speaking the basis of those ideas can be identified by examining the social origins of those that occupied the dominant positions in that State apparatus, and the multitude of connections that tie them to particular social groups.

Another example of that can be taken from Russia. After, the Revolution, Lenin recognised the need to quickly develop Russian industry. Not only was the NEP introduced that restored a large degree of private ownership, and market relations, but Lenin personally put great store in trying to attract large foreign Capitalist concerns to invest in Russia, in joint ventures, very similar to those that China has established with foreign Capital. He was not very successful in that endeavour – not surprisingly given the fear of foreign Capital at being expropriated by international revolution. He did strike up a relationship, however, with Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum. Lenin also was successful with another US businessman, Vanderlip, who came to Moscow with various proposals. Forty-two concession agreements were made, of which thirty-one functioned, mainly in timber. Lenin pushed for this despite the objections of some ultra-lefts within the Bolshevik Party, who objected to such joint ventures. According to Alec Nove, they argued, “We chased out our own capitalists, and now we call in foreign capitalists.”

Lenin insisted that, by letting foreign capitalists operate oilfields, exploit timber resources and so on, the Soviet State would obtain materials of which it stood in desperate need, and some modern equipment. In fact, Lenin was quite explicit and brutal in his analysis. The price of allowing Russian workers to be exploited by foreign Capital was worth it, he argued, not just because of the above, but because it would act to introduce the necessary discipline into the Russian workforce, would provide the necessary technical and managerial training that Russian industry required, and would impose a competitive whip on Russian state owned industry forcing it to develop more rapidly. In conditions such as these, indeed in conditions where commodity production predominated, and where wage workers confronted the means of production owned by the State still as an alien force, still as Capital, the correct description of productive relations was, as Lenin himself analysed it, that of State Capitalism. Yet, these productive relations of State Capitalism could provide no basis for defining the class nature of the Soviet State, still less from them could be drawn the conclusion that a Capitalist class or even a State Capitalist class dominated the State at that time. Lenin's actions in introducing NEP, and in encouraging Joint Ventures and concessions to foreign Capital was not the action of an agent of Capital, not the action of a representative of some State Capitalist class, but the actions of someone attempting to further the interests of workers by taking whatever measures he felt were necessary to develop the Soviet economy, which was a precondition for the furtherance of the interests of workers! The truth is always concrete.

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