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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

China's Reality

October 27, 2008
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Mainstream observers might refer to the Economist and the Financial Times when discussing modern China.  NPR, The Nation, and the New Left Review offer important alternative viewpoints for activists and grassroots community development proponents.  Take a look at these segments below by Gifford, Parenti, and Walker and Buck: 


All Things Considered, July 27, 2005 · China, A Nation of Individuals
For Chinese Peasant, Democracy and Disillusionment
by Rob Gifford

 In 2002, with rural unrest spreading in China, the central government stepped up its policy of allowing some villages to elect leaders. Wan Shuguang, a peasant in central China, stood for election as village chief and won. He set about trying to make government more transparent, especially in its finances. Nearly three years later, with his term coming to an end, much of his optimism has dissipated.

Wan says he was badly beaten recently by the Communist Party secretary of his village, because he was not respectful enough in a letter to the party official. It was the latest but certainly the worst in a long string of disputes that have dogged the 60-year-old peasant since the day he was elected.

Chinese Struggle Over Resources Under a Quasi-Maoist Capitalism By Christian Parenti
Here in Da Ba, the trouble began in October 2005, when the village party secretary, Lu Cheng Cun, told more than 600 farmers they would have to sell their land to the privately owned Tian Hong Mine Ltd. so it could be excavated for coal.

The farmers refused to sell. "We could not survive on the price they offered. We could not buy other land with it," says a woman named Chun. The protest leaders have asked that I use only their first names, and our meeting is held secretly after elaborate efforts to confuse and avoid the police.

"They said this is an important energy project and that we were getting in the way," explains Chun. The farmers still refused. Then several leaders were jailed and beaten. The first was Yong Sam Lan, a 50-year-old woman, jailed and beaten twice. Police raided family homes, locking up and battering those they thought were ringleaders.

"They beat my mother so badly she was in hospital for two months with a brain injury," says one of the protesting villagers, a woman in her mid-40s named Lin. In all, they say, eight of the farmers have been hospitalized from beatings by local goons, and many others have been roughed up.

Perhaps just as bad, the villagers were also prevented from working their land and thus stripped of their livelihoods. Eventually about 200 people signed away their property, but most held out and filed a lawsuit against the local authorities. For three years, through arbitration and two trials, they have fought, all the while living under intimidation from local thugs and the police.

The Chinese Road by Walker and Buck
Comparison with historical experience of the rise of capitalism in the West can act as a useful counterbalance to three shortcomings of contemporary China studies. The first common error is to exaggerate China?s uniqueness vis-à-vis the general process of capitalist transition. This does not mean adopting the flat-earth neoliberalism of Thomas Friedman or a unilinear Marxism in which the rest of the world must recapitulate the economic history of Britain or the United States. While capitalism has universal elements, the road to capitalism follows many routes, depending on history, geographic circumstance and politics. Like a virus, capitalism cannot survive without living hosts, whose dna it alters in order to reproduce. Therefore, one can certainly refer to ?capitalism with Chinese characteristics?.

A second pitfall for China watchers is an obsession with the socialist past. Certainly, the Maoist era shaped the country?s present course to an important degree, and China shares characteristics with other ex-socialist countries. But it differs profoundly from most post-Soviet and East European countries in that it did not undergo a sudden implosion of state, party and economy. Instead, an autocratic state has maintained a close hold on economic policy and the Communist Party continues to monopolize political life. Nonetheless, China in the twenty-first century can no longer sensibly be called ?late? or ?market? socialist.

A better comparison, in our view, is with the experience of capitalism in the West. But here lies a third danger, of drawing parallels only with contemporary developments around the world, from Internet search engines to mega-malls. Less well understood are the striking parallels with the past in Europe and North America, such as mass rural-to-urban migration and the gradual creation of a banking system. Such processes unfold over decades, and much of China is still pre-capitalist by any measure. Nevertheless, a generation after the prc was set on the road to capitalism by Deng Xiaoping?s market reforms in 1978, the Communist leadership can no longer return the genie to its bottle. ?Market imperatives quickly proved uncontrollable?, as Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett have put it; the ?Chinese economy now operates largely according to capitalist logic.? Or, as Robert Weil wryly notes, instead of the reformers ?using capitalism to build socialism?, they ?used socialism to build capitalism?. [2]

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