Friday, October 28, 2011

The Creator of the Post Modern Capitalist State, Deng Xiaopeng

There is a new 876 page biography of Deng out by Ezra Vogel, but what's really remarkable is the review of that book by the famous Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi in the New York Review of Books. Fang notes how little Vogel has to say about the most notorious aspect of Deng's reign, the massacre of protesters camped out in Tiananmen Square in 1989. What he does say effectively agrees with the official Chinese government line, that the massacre was somehow necessary for the creation of the powerful and prosperous China of today. Fang takes that assertion apart, as well as claims that the regime under Deng set the stage for widespread prosperity in China. Indeed, having read Fang's critique, I wonder if what Deng really created was the prototype for the post-modern capitalist state.

Fang argues that China, long before Deng came to power, was sharply stratified between a very privileged and powerful elite of the Communist Party and everyone else (very similar to the stratification of society in late Dynastic China). Since at least the collapse of the Great Leap Forward, that elite first and foremost concentrated on staying in power. The Cultural Revolution was Mao's delusional paranoia writ large upon China, but it was also a brilliant diversion of the widespread rage over the famine that followed the failure of the Great Leap Forward, a famine that killed 40 million people, the worst in recorded history. Mao diverted public anger away from himself and onto the Party elite. One of those party elite who felt that popular wrath was Deng Xiaopeng. Deng slowly returned to power determined to see to it that nothing like that happened again.

Vogel asserts that Deng's reaction against the excesses and chaos of the Cultural Revolution created China's current economic and political power. Fang takes a more jaundiced view of Deng's accomplishments and their motivation. Fang argues that Deng's primary purpose was to put the Party elite firmly in control of China's political and legal system, and to enrich itself. Fang argues that the "Four Modernizations" slogans of the Deng era were all just empty rhetoric to sell these policies to a public that still had some residual belief that they lived in a revolutionary society. China under Deng exchanged brutal ruthless Communism for brutal ruthless capitalism so the regime could get rich. Deng's regime allowed only as much openess and freedom as was necessary for the creation of a technical and professional elite to make this arrangement work. Fang points out that despite greater access to the outside world, the regime actually tightened its grip on many other aspects of daily life such as publishing, internet access, religious belief (the state chooses Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian hierarchs, and maintains temples and monasteries as cultural institutions controlled by a government ministry), and including dress codes for women's fashions.

Fang scoffs at the claim that Deng "lifted millions out of poverty." He points out that the regime continues to exploit China's most valuable resource, its vast pool of cheap labor. Millions upon millions of poorly paid people forbidden to form unions, who have no job security, no social security, no access to regular health care, and no regulations guaranteeing their safety in the workplace are the foundation of China's current power and prosperity. As in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, the very people who were in power and prospering under communism are the same ones who are now rich and still powerful under capitalism (they were the ones who held the deeds when all the state assets were sold off). Deng even created a slogan for this new naked inequality, "Let part of the population get rich first." There it is, the old Republican Party trickle down economics with flags and slogans.

Right wing pundits in the West appear to envy and even be in love with China. China is the new "can-do" country, the paradise of cheap labor and no regulation (but a hell of protectionist prohibitions and corrupt bureaucrats all wanting their take). As Margaret Thatcher once praised Singapore as a model for the rest of the world, so right wing pundits and politicos praise China as a model for success. The city state of Singapore is not, and never was, a democracy, and China certainly isn't. There is no shortage of right wing thinkers in this country who would argue that the USA is not really a democracy either.

The China created by Deng may now well be the template for the post modern capitalist state, run by and for a powerful elite who rule a rigidly stratified society in which those at the bottom should just be grateful that they are working at all and not starving. That template may well be the future being created for the West by very powerful people determined to create an international "plutonomy."

In this new world, all revolutions will come from the top down. Those who would dare to presume to decide things for themselves and to organize accordingly must be dealt with like all upstarts who presume upon their betters.

Beizhing, 1989

Oakland, CA, 2011

The reigning Western economic policy orthodoxy of impoverishing the populace in order to bail out the banks is precisely the sort of thing Deng would have endorsed. After all, it's the people who failed, not the leaders.


According to an article in The Atlantic, there is widespread popular interest in the Western Occupy movements in China. The article also contains a first hand account of the class struggle in contemporary China.


JCF said...

Great post, Doug.

How is the nomenclatura defined in China, I wonder? Is it (sub-Han Chinese) ethnicity, or clan?

Counterlight said...

From what I understand, it's Han ethnicity, Party membership, and cronyism and nepotism.