Useful Notes / To Get Rich Is Glorious

"It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white — so long as it catches mice."

The current phase of Chinese history.

For consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat, preventing a capitalist restoration, and constructing socialism, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has been absolutely necessary and timely.
Mao, Directive of 30/10/1967

The Cultural Revolution was so 'necessary' by the dictates of the Maoist worldview, and so monstrous in its implementation, that when taken together with the CCP left-faction's failures in the Great Leap Forward it completely discredited them. After the Great Leap Forward Maoists had still been able to claim that the Maoist Marxist-Leninist ideology was still fundamentally good in principle, and had just been badly implemented. After the Cultural Revolution, they were unable to defend themselves from the accusation that in its purest practical expression Maoism had shown itself to be rotten to the core. Yet with Mao and his eminently charismatic no.2 Zhou Enlai still alive and heading a senior national and party leadership full (after the purges) of Maoist faithfuls or those too afraid to challenge him, Liu Shaoqi dead (while under house arrest, in suspicious circumstances), and Deng Xiaoping under house arrest, there was no room for dissent or change. The Maoist order continued to lock the nation into a state of cultural and economic stasis even after the Cultural Revolution was declared successfully completed and ended through the suppression of the Red Guard movement by the PLA in 1971.

But after Liu Shaoqi and Mao died of natural causes in 1976, Deng quickly moved against the febrile and increasingly isolated Maoist faction headed by Party Chairman Hua 'Two Whatevers' Guofengnote  and Mao's final wife (and architect of many of the Cultural Revolution's initiatives) Jiang Qing. Some within the party leadership, especially with the PLA, had actually remained sympathetic to State-Capitalist 'Socialism' throughout the Revolution and had avoided being purged through their sheer force of lack of personality. Within two years they staged a coup, and Deng Xiaoping assumed control of the country from the shadows.

In foreign policy terms, the most important developmemnts were first Sino-American and then Sino-Soviet Détente. At the turn of the 1970s foreign policy experts in the USA finally came around to the view - after twelve years of border skirmishes and constant, hysterical anti-Soviet rhetoric - that maybe the Chinese and the Soviets weren't actually steadfast allies. In their defense, this is the same foreign policy establishment that had so wisely predicted that The Vietnam War had been and remained winnable - so it's quite unfair to expect them to have picked up on something so much subtler. note  In 1972 the PRC and USA normalised relations, with Richard Nixon and his ruthless associate Henry Kissinger being subjected to the charms of the personable Zhou Enlai and the ruthless Chairman. The Chinese categorically refused to 'liberalise' their economy by selling off every sector of their economy to American multinational corporations, but did agree to sell raw materials to the USA in return for industrial goods. When Deng took control in 1977-8, Sino-Soviet relations were also normalised and a measure of raw-materials-for-industrial-goods trade resumed.

Under Deng the country effectively reinstated Capitalism by allowing private ownership of Capital (the non-labour inputs which create 'value') including companies, land, tools, and large sums of money in general and particularly within zones opened to foreign investment in local-foreign joint-enterprises. These Special Economic Zones (SE Zs) were mostly coastal cities with some fairly Unfortunate Implications given that many had been "treaty ports" leased under duress to European colonial empires as semi-colonies in wars including the two Opium Wars. However, the ends justified the means: the non-existet safety regulations and lower wages that they could dictate to Chinese workers legally forbidden to unionise, whose unending attempts were (and still are) crushed by yet more Unfortunate Implications police repression in favour of the foreigners, caused many foreign multinational corporations to set up shop there. For instance, turn over your mouse or phone and examine it - chances are it was made in China, though the clothes that you may be wearing were probably made somewhere with even more non-existent safety regulations and wages such as Bangladesh. As almost inevitably occurs in Capitalist undeveloped countries which don't limit elite wages, local elites invested some of the gains from the industrialisation and increase in trade within the country - but more and more of it went abroad.

A very little-known turning point occurred in 1985. At the time no country had ever (successfully) negotiated a transition from an economy with zero Capitalist elements to one which contained its destructive tendencies and harnessed them to the benefit of the general population, rather than simply enriching a tiny elite through what was effectively state-sanctioned theft (this is precisely what later happened in the ex-Soviet Union). Enter Janos Kornai, Hungarian 'State Capitalist' Socialist, and other semi-exiled intellectual giants of (neo-)Keynesian economic interventionism. The head of the Chinese government Premier Zhao asked them for their help in reforming their political economy.

"The Prime Minister of the largest country on earth, canvassing advice from an assorted group of foreign economists [...] Where else would one find a Prime Minister inviting advice from abroad?"
"Sir Alexander Cairncross", Chancellor of Glasgow University, diary entry of 31/08/1985 note 

Admitting that they were unsure of their particular goals and leaving the discussion open-ended, the delegates muted their excitement at Janos Kornai's well-argued case for a whole-of-country 'State Capitalist' political economy which would use Keynesian measures to prevent or fix depressions and recessions. Although he could not promise them that it would work, the examples of the admittedly tiny contemporary island-nations of Singapore & Taiwan and the sound nature of the economic platform meant that it should work in theory.

It has, albeit imperfectly. The final doubters were convinced by the disastrous uncontrolled transition from Socialism in the former Soviet bloc, where former party elites reaped massive profits from buying up state-owned enterprises sold at ludicrously low prices (set by accident and by design) which only reflected tiny fractions of their real value. This was the ultimate vindication of their own model, in which party elites merely became fantastically wealth through the perfectly acceptable means of massive corruption. By most measures, since the dawn of The New '10s the economy has still managed to take off big-time despite the dampening effects of burgeoning wealth inequality and corruption. China is a massive economic powerhouse, considered to be a rising superpower, a space power, and generally, an amiable enough member of non-Pacific international community. In its immediate neighbourhood its rise is generally viewed with trepidation, such as in Singapore, or open terror as in Taiwan. With futuristic skylines rising from the cities, where a growing urban middle-class works and plays, just like their peers in Japan, Europe, and north America.

For the USA, the refusal of the country to 'go democratic' violates the country's legitimating ideology of Neoliberalism/'Market Liberalism'. This belief system was propagated by the country's government and business community, and asserts that when a country's economy is controlled by the wealthy and/or (US) corporations then it becomes a representative democracy where the wealth trickles down to ordinary citizens. Many US citizens genuinely believed, and some still do, that the Communist bloc's political suicide was in fact a 'victory' by Neoliberalism which signalled that there was no ideological alternative, on the basis that that the entirety of human history before 1989 doesn't count. It's particularly troubling for US citizens who lived through the triumphal, gloriously vindicating feeling of 'winning' the Cold War, since they believe that that 'communist dictatorships' (yes, they don't see the difference between that and dictatorial State Capitalism) are doomed to fail - so why haven't they, goshdarnit?

Even outside the USA, the country's refusal to fail and implode spectacularly is troubling for Liberal idealogues. This is because many of those people came to believe Francis Fukuyama's 'End of History' thesis that the collapse of the Soviet bloc proved - in contradiction of traditional Liberal thought which considers the control of a society by government (always evil) and by wealth (always good) as incompatible - that Liberty/Freedom and Democracy/Communism were not merely not opposed, but that they were complimentary. Today, continued dictatorship in China and the rollback of democracy across the globe including within the USA itself gives the lie to this rather a-historical notion, and Liberals are re-stressing the fundamental incompatibility of rule-by-wealth (good) and rule-by-government (evil). The renewed emphasis on the Freedom vs. Democracy/Communism debate in Liberal circles may be why sales of pro-Freedom publications like that of Ayn Rand seem to be picking up again in the USA, as Liberal centrists move to the nationalist-plutocratic 'right'. On the other hand, sales of pro-Democracy/Communist publications such as Joseph Stiglitz's are also increasing due to Liberal defections to the socialist-populist left.

However, things are very far from being fine and dandy. Even though the modern People's Republic is very tolerant of artistic expression and a certain degree of outrage at corruption compared to the Good Old Days of Maoism, it experiences something on the order of dozens of protests or demonstrations by groups of more than 50 people every day. Culturally, the end of the Cultural Revolution may have ceased the overtly political-economic attacks against Chinese heritage, but there's little anyone can do when gorgeous classical architecture is demolished on purely economic g rouns to make way for freeways and apartment blocks needed to accommodate the growing urban population, or when the people dump traditional ways in favor of emulating the imported culture they pick up on TV. Beijing, the "Bicycle City", is now full of cars, and hence, pollution and smog clouds. China has ten of the world's most polluted cities, and much of the inner countryside is under threat as natural environments are chopped down and turned into farmlands or mines. There has been a growing Was It Really Worth It? sentiment among some of the Chinese citizenry who wonder if their society has lost something in their relentless pursuit for getting rich, especially in the aftermath of the Wang Yue debacle.

The government occasionally cracks down on the population again, disturbing to citizens of the "free world" who feel that it's their outsourced dollars that are allowing it to do so. With the current economic troubles in the West, many feel it's only a matter of time before China Takes Over the World, for better or for worse. Though, at the moment, China still has a very bad wealth to population ratio (ranked 90th in the world, whereas the US is 6th) and its economy is still well less than half the size of The United States or The European Union. It remains a powerful importer and exporter of natural resources like oil, gas and coal, and many speculate that China will become the importer and exporter of resources like oil, gas and oil, replacing the United States in that department.

In 2013, Xi Jinpingnote  developed a plan of measures known as the "383 Plan", which will involve a greater opening of the market, some transformations in the government and a reformation of enterprises in order to boost innovation on various levels. The eight key areas to tackle are: cutting administrative approvals, promoting competition, land reform, opening up banking including the liberalisation of interest rates and the exchange rate, reforming the fiscal system including setting up basic social security, reforming state-owned enterprises, promoting innovation including green technology, and opening up the services sector. Within these, the plan identifies three major breakthroughs to be achieved: lower market barriers to attract investors and boost competition, setting up a basic social security package, and allowing collectively-owned land to be traded. With this, the government hopes to diminish inequality, inefficiencey and the enormous levels of corruption. The success or failure of these measures will likely determine Xi Jinping's political future. And China's future.

But what is China, anyway? Is it a centralized bureaucratic empire ruled by tradition? A zealous communist police state? A Mad Science experiment obsessed with progress at all costs? Probably nobody knows anymore — not even the Chinese themselves — but we'll go the easy route and say it's somewhere in between.