The Asian Century 22.

            Communism trapped China in isolation, poverty, and mass death.  State-sponsored capitalism has turned China into the second largest economy in the world and raised hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty.  Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, is very much what once would have been called a “capitalist roader.”   Ma believes that hard work and lots of it will pave China’s road to success.  He is the personification of China’s post-Mao development strategy.  To paraphrase Charlie Wilson, “What’s good for China is good for Jack Ma, and vice versa.”[1] 

            Except many young Chinese have their doubts.[2]  Many Chinese have not kept pace during China’s race to wealth.[3]  The work-load in some parts of the economy is killing: 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.  In these circumstances, Mao’s belief in “constant class struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors,” which contributed to the coming of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” has a renewed appeal.  People have begun to denounce “exploitation and meaningless striving.”  They post on-line slogans announcing their belief that “Dying for the country?  Yes.  Dying for the capitalists?  Never.”  They describe themselves as “wage slaves” and “corporate cattle.”  They denounce Jack Ma as the human face of a whole system: “Workers are only money-making tools for people like him.”  They also criticize the Communist Party for having tilted too far in favor of the capitalists.  In these conditions, “The Selected Works of Mao Zedong” has become again a best-seller.  This time, it is also being closely read and often quoted. 

All the evidence is that Zi Jinping got there first.  China’s internet is tightly censored.[4]  Yet the torrents of complaint against the capitalists, which go as far as calls for physical elimination, flow unchecked.  Jack Ma himself abruptly disappeared from public view in Fall 2020.  Whether these measures, along with Zi’s campaign of nationalism and stifling Western ideas, will be enough to calm the waves is an open question. 

What’s missing in the nostalgic Maoist analysis?  Two things.  First, China doesn’t have any independent labor unions to bargain with employers.[5]  If such unions did exist, Chinese workers would rush to join.  Massive strikes would follow.  Second, China doesn’t have a two party political system.  There is no party with a vested interest in promoting redistributive policies.  If such a party did exist, voters would flock to it.  Wealth inequality would be blunted. 

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a fundamental contradiction exists between the Communist Party’s monopoly of power and the needs of the workers.[6] 


[1] On Charles Wilson, not the Charlie Wilson of the movie, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Erwin_Wilson 

[2] Li Yuan, “China’s Youth Are Turning to Mao,” NYT, 10 July 2021.  See also https://waroftheworldblog.com/2021/07/07/the-asian-century-21/ 

[3] On income inequality in China, compared with in the United States and France, see: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2019/04/01/income-inequality-is-growing-fast-in-china-and-making-it-look-more-like-the-us/ 

[4] On the “Great Firewall of China,” see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Firewall 

[5] OK, neither does the United States.  Labor unions grew so obstructive in economic hard times that companies shipped lots of jobs to “right to work” states and automated many more.  However, they now go out of their way not to vex their workers so that those workers don’t vote to join a union.  See the recent vote by Amazon workers in Alabama not to join the Teamsters as one example.  See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/03/02/american-union-stay-away-from-me-uh/ 

[6] I had a student once who described Lenin “speaking in a Marxist dialect.”