The Arab Spring and its downturn is sometimes compared with the “revolution” and its “defeat” on Tiananmen Square in 1989. If a comparison can be made, then I would insist that the review of a participant of “Tiananmen 1998” and his “conscientisation” should be studied, so an similar historical materialist analysis could be made of the Arab Spring. I am reffering to the book “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy” by MINQI LI (to read and to download on http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf)
|to read and to download on http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf|
Some interesting parts out “Preface My 1989”... (subtitles are mine)
From”neoliberal democrat” to revolutionary Marxist
I belong to the “1989 generation.” But unlike the rest of the 1989 generation, I made the unusual intellectual and political trajectory from the Right to the Left, and from being a neoliberal “democrat” to a revolutionary Marxist. I was a student at the Economic Management Department of Beijing University during the period 1987–90. This department has now become the Guanghua Economic Management School, a leading Chinese neoliberal think tank advocating full-scale market liberalization and privatization. At Beijing University, we were taught standard neoclassical microeconomics and macroeconomics, and what later I learned was termed “Chicago School” economics—that is, the theory that only a free market economy with clarified private property rights and “small government” can solve all economic and social problems rationally and efficiently.
We were convinced that the socialist economy was unjust, oppressive, and inefficient. It rewarded a layer of privileged, lazy workers in the state sector and “punished” (or at least undercompensated) capable and smart people such as entrepreneurs and intellectuals, who we considered to be the cream of society. Thus,
for China to have any chance to catch up with the West, to be “rich and powerful,” it had to follow the free market capitalist model.
State-owned enterprises were by nature inefficient and should all be privatized. State-sector workers should be forced to participate in market competition and those who were incapable, too lazy, or too stupid, should just be abandoned.
The 1980s was a decade of political and intellectual excitement in China. Despite some half-hearted official restrictions, large sections of the Chinese intelligentsia were politically active and were able to push for successive waves of the so-called “emancipation of ideas” (jiefang sixiang). The intellectual critique of the already existing Chinese socialism at first took place largely within a Marxist discourse. Dissident intellectuals called for more democracy without questioning the legitimacy of the Chinese Revolution or the economic institutions of socialism.
After 1985, however, economic reform moved increasingly in the direction of the free market. Corruption increased and many among the bureaucratic elites became the earliest big capitalists. Meanwhile, among the intellectuals, there was a sharp turn to the right. The earlier, Maoist phase of Chinese socialism was increasingly seen as a period of political oppression and economic failure. Chinese socialism was supposed to have “failed,” as it lost the economic growth race to places such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Many regarded Mao Zedong himself as an ignorant, backward Chinese peasant who turned into a cruel, power-hungry despot who had been responsible for the killing of tens of millions. (This perception of Mao is by no means a new one, we knew it back in the 1980s.)1
The “neoliberal” intellectuals were in favour of Zhao Ziyang ....and Deng Xiaoping
The politically active intellectuals no longer borrowed discourse from Marxism. Instead, western classical liberalism and neoliberal economics, as represented by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, had become the new, fashionable ideology. Liberal intellectuals were all in favor of privatization and the free market. But they disagreed among themselves regarding the political strategy of “reform” (that is, the transition to capitalism).
Some continued to favor a call for “democracy.” Others had moved further to the Right by advocating neo-authoritarianism, the kind of authoritarian capitalism that existed in South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, which denied the working class democratic rights but provided protection of the property right (or “liberty”). Many saw provided protection of the property right (or “liberty”). Many saw Zhao Ziyang, then the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, as the one who could carry out such an “enlightened despotism.” Such were the ideological conditions in China before the emergence of the 1989 “democratic movement.”
In 1988, I was already active in the campus student dissident activities, and in early 1989, restiveness grew on university campuses.
The death of Hu Yaobang (the former “reformist” general secretary of the Party) was taken as an excuse by the students to initiate a series of political demonstrations. At that time, there was a degree of genuine desire on the part of ordinary students for some form of democracy; there were still many students attending Beijing’s top universities who came from workers’ and peasants’ backgrounds.
Thus, there was pressure from below to push the movement in a more radical direction. The liberal intellectuals were in favor of the capitalist-oriented “reform.” To accomplish this, they were generally inclined to rely upon an alliance with the “reformist” wing of the Party which was led by Zhao Ziyang. But the liberals also hoped to win over the support of Deng Xiaoping, the de facto leader of the Party. The liberals initially attempted to contain the student demonstrations, but without
success. While the student leaders were ideologically influenced by the liberal intellectuals, they were politically inexperienced and also
very much driven by their personal political ambitions.2
The Chinese workers, considered “passive”, “obedient” and “ingnorant” by the students.....supported the rebelling students
As the student demonstrations grew, workers in Beijing began to pour onto the streets in support of the students, who were, of course, delighted. However, being an economics student, I could not help experiencing a deep sense of irony. On the one hand, these workers were the people that we considered to be passive, obedient, ignorant, lazy, and stupid. Yet now they were coming out to support us. On the other hand, just weeks before, we were enthusiastically advocating “reform” programs that would shut down all state factories and leave the workers unemployed. I asked myself: do these workers really know who they are supporting?
Unfortunately, the workers did not really know. In the 1980s, in terms of material living standards, the Chinese working class remained relatively well-off. There were nevertheless growing resentments on the part of the workers as the program of economic reform took a capitalist turn. Managers were given increasing power to impose capitalist-style labor disciplines (such as Taylorist “scientific management”) on the workers. The reintroduction of “material incentives” had paved the way for growing income inequality and managerial corruption.
However, after the failure of the Maoist Revolution, the Chinese working class was politically disarmed. The official television programs, newspapers, and magazines now positively portrayed a materially prosperous western capitalism and highly dynamic East Asian capitalist “dragons.” Only China and other socialist states appeared to have lagged behind. Given the collaboration of official media and the liberal intellectuals (and certainly aided by mainstream western academia and media), it should not be too surprising that many among the Chinese workers would accept the mainstream perception of capitalism naively and uncritically. The dominant image of capitalism had turned from one of sweatshop super-exploitation into one synonymous of democracy, high wages and welfare benefits, as well as the union protection of workers’ rights. It was not until the 1990s that the Chinese working class would again learn from their own experience what capitalism was to mean in real life.
While many Chinese workers might be ready to accept capitalism in the abstract from its depiction on the television, in reality they certainly understood where their material interests lay. They cherished their “iron rice bowls” (that is, lifetime job security and a full set of welfare programs) and their initial support of the student demonstrations was partly based on the belief that the students were protesting against corruption and economic inequality. However, once politically and ideologically disarmed, the Chinese working class was not able to act as an independent political force fighting for its own class interest. Instead, they became either politically irrelevant or coerced into participating in a political movement the ultimate objective of which was diametrically opposed to their own interests.
The Chinese working class was to learn a bitter lesson, and pay the price in blood.3
The students left the rebellion-scene.... the workers were suppressed
By mid-May 1989, the student movement became rapidly radicalized, and liberal intellectuals and student leaders lost control of events. During the “hunger strike” at Tiananmen Square, millions of workers came out to support the students. This developed into a near-revolutionary situation and a political showdown between the government and the student movement was all but inevitable.
The liberal intellectuals and student leaders were confronted with a strategic decision. They could organize a general retreat, calling off the demonstrations, though this strategy would certainly be demoralizing. The student leaders would probably be expelled from the universities and some liberal intellectuals might lose their jobs. But more negative, bloody consequences would be avoided.
Alternatively, the liberal intellectuals and the student leaders could strike for victory. They could build upon the existing political momentum, mobilize popular support, and take steps to seize political power. If they adopted this tactic, it was difficult to say if they would succeed but there was certainly a good chance. The Communist Party’s leadership was divided. Many army commanders’ and provincial governments’ loyalty to the central government was in question. The student movement had the support of the great majority of urban residents throughout the country. To pursue this option, however, the liberal intellectuals and students had to be willing and able to mobilize the full support of the urban working class. This was a route that the Chinese liberal intellectuals simply would not consider. So what they did was … nothing. The government did not wait long to act. While the students themselves peacefully left Tiananmen Square, thousands of workers died in Beijing’s streets defending them.4
Trying to understand the failure of the 1989 “democratic movement” discovered Marxism, in prison becoming revolutionary
Two years later, as I read Marx’s The Class Struggle in France, 1848–1850 in prison, I was struck by the similarity between the French petty bourgeoisie in the mid-nineteenth century and the Chinese liberal intellectuals in the late twentieth century in their political ineptitude, which was ultimately a reflection of the social conditions of their lives and class interests. (....)
The ideas of the intelligentsia, not unlike the ideas of everyone else, are first of all reflections of the material conditions of their lives and social surroundings.
An intellectual’s ideas, thus, are inevitably limited by their narrow personal perspectives and biased by their class interest. A person who grows up in a materially privileged environment, like myself, does not naturally tend to understand and appreciate the interests of the working class. It is only with the intensification of capitalism’s social contradictions, and as sections of the intelligentsia (or the middle class) are threatened with proletarianization or downward social mobility, that many among the more privileged social classes begin to take a political stand against their own class and identify themselves with the cause of the working class.
In my case, soon after the failure of the 1989 “democratic movement,” I reflected upon this failure and tried to understand the underlying causes. I became a leftist, a socialist, a Marxist, and eventually, a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. A year later, I gave a political speech on the campus of Beijing University, which cost me two years of imprisonment. However, there were two advantages concerning incarceration. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to live with people from various underprivileged social strata. This experience was of immeasurable value. Secondly, in prison, I had ample time to read, a privilege I have not been able to enjoy since then. I read Marx’s three volumes of Capital three times, in addition to many other classical writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Mao, Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital, Arghiri Immanuel’s Unequal Exchange, G.A. Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History, and Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy.
For Marxists “after the Fall,” an inescapable question is how to evaluate the historical records of twentieth-century socialisms.
As I started to reject neoliberal economics and accept Marxism, I attempted to move beyond my own narrow class perspective and reconsider many issues from the perspective of the working class. For example, instead of seeing the “iron rice bowl” as a paternalist labor regime that repressed individual freedom and encouraged laziness and inefficiency, I began to understand that it was a great historical right won by the Chinese working class through revolutionary struggle and had served as a safeguard of the workers’ basic interests, protecting them against bureaucratic and capitalist exploitation.
I started to question both the official Communist Party’s account and the liberal intellectual’s account (which was essentially the same as the western mainstream account) of the Maoist era. A critical question was how to evaluate the period of the Cultural Revolution. The official account and the liberal account were virtually the same.5
Discovering the historical LIES of the official Communist Party, being identical to those of the “liberal intellectuals” and to those of the “western mainstream”
Mao Zedong, either because of his thirst for power or his obsession with class struggle, singlehandedly initiated massive nation-wide persecution, killed millions, and destroyed the educational system and the economy. The decade of the Cultural Revolution was referred to by both liberal and official accounts as the “Ten Years of Havoc” (Shi Nian Haojie). Readers will certainly be familiar with the many books, novels, and movies that denounced the Cultural Revolution along this line of thinking.
Even before 1989, I read an article in a provincial intellectual journal which questioned these mainstream versions of the Cultural Revolution and argued that Mao’s original intention was to mobilize the masses to fight against bureaucratic privilege. That was the first time I’d ever heard that Mao was committed to highly egalitarian and democratic ideals. In 1992, I was released from prison, and I spent the following two years traveling around the country, debating with remaining liberal dissident activists; I also had the opportunity to make contact with both state-sector workers and migrant workers employed in the new capitalist sector.
In the meantime, I conducted my own research into political, economic, and social development in modern China, using fake identification to visit the provincial and city libraries (many Chinese libraries at the time required employee or student ID cards forentrance, while I had been expelled from Beijing University and was unemployed). I started to view Maoist China primarily as arevolutionary legacy rather than a historical burden for future socialist revolutionaries. (...)
I celebrated the great social and economic achievements of Maoist Chinese socialism, and pointed out that the nature of China’s ongoing economic reform was the transition to capitalism and that the capitalist relations of production had already become dominant by the early 1990s. 6
First conclusion: The 1989 “democratic movement” was NOT a popular democratic movement
I made a Marxist analysis of the 1989 “democratic movement,” arguing that the movement was by no means a popular democratic movement, but that it could not be understood without an analysis of the three-way class relationship between the ruling bureaucratic capitalist class, the urban middle class (the liberal intellectuals), and the urban working class. The liberal intellectuals and the bureaucratic capitalists shared many common interests. The liberal intellectuals were unable to lead the “democratic movement” to victory exactly because of their fear of the democratic potentials of the working class. The urban working class was unable to self-consciously fi ght for its own interest and suffered a tragic historical defeat. This defeat in turn paved the way for China’s transition to capitalism. I refuted neoliberal economics and the myth that private property is indispensable for economic rationality. I discussed the inherent contradictions between democracy and capitalism, and the social and material conditions that had contributed to China’s capitalist economic expansion and I speculated about the conditions for the future Chinese revolution. I concluded with a chapter criticiziing market socialism and advocating democratic socialist planning. In short, I made a complete political and intellectual break with the Chinese liberal intellectuals as well as their political representatives, and firmly put myself in the camp of revolutionary Marxism.7
China, now part of the capitalist world, accelerating the structural global capitalist crisis... will lead to its demise?
In 2001, a research group of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences published a study on China’s “social strata.” The study rejected traditional Marxist social analysis and argued that China was moving towards a “middle-class society.” The study was believed to have provided theoretical justification for Party leader Jiang Zemin’s new theory, which no longer claimed the Party to be the representative of the class interests of the proletariat and officially opened the way for admission of private-sector capitalists into the Party. When the editor of a leading Chinese leftist journal asked me to write a critique of the study. I wrote “China’s Class Structure from the World-System’s Perspective.” Towards the end of this critique, I included a section “The Rise (Modernization) of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy.” I argued that China’s economic rise would in fact greatly destabilize the capitalist world-economy in various ways and contribute to its fi nal demise.
Building upon the two earlier papers, I wrote another—“The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy: Historical Possibilities of the 21st Century”—this time in English. The paper begins by pointing out that the rise of China as a major player in the capitalist world-economy has been one of the most significant developments in the early twenty-first century and that this development raises a set of questions of world-historic significance.
How will China’s internal social structure evolve as China assumes different positions in the existing world-system? Will China’s current regime of accumulation survive the potenttial pressures that will arise out of such a transformation? As China moves upwards within the hierarchy of the existing world-system, how will other peripheral and semi-peripheral countries be affected? Will China become the next hegemonic power? Will the twenty-first century turn out to be the “Chinese Century”? Most importantly, how will the rise of China affect the underlying dynamics of the existing world-system itself? (...)
(T)he so-called “rise of China” in fact reflects as well as greatly accelerates the structural crisis of the capitalist world-economy that will lead to its eventual demise.8
1“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf
2“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf
3“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf
4“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf
5“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf
6“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf
7“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf
8“Preface: My 1989 - Minqi Li, June 2008, in “The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy”, First published 2008 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA www.plutobooks.com Copyright © Minqi Li 2008. http://digamo.free.fr/minqili08.pdf