‘Labour Imperialism’ : CPC’s Hidden Ideology
There is no denying that
the People's Republic of China
(PRC)'s race towards the top of world economy is just not a miracle but has upset theoretical perceptions in vogue in economics and political economy. Much before 2050, if the present development velocity goes on, PRC under the Communist Party of China (CPC) will edge out the USA from the top position in terms of the size of the economy. Nonetheless, the basic questions remain. Will it mean a socialistic development with an egalitarian basis? Or has the post-Mao PRC been shifting away from socialist path, one of the manifestations of the downslide being the largest number of migrants the world over although through an inner PRC migration? Most of those migrants were farmers or workers in countryside. Al Jazeera TV carried a feature in November last year giving a tell-tale account of prison of slaves or migrant labourers—ousted from their places or forced to migrate in search of alternate livelihoods. Unfortunately, CPI and CPI(M) leaders are no different from the apologists of neocons among top management experts and, industrial tycoons praise the Chinese financial triumph but are silent about the unabated increase in socio-economic inequality, an unmistakable manifestation of capitalism which the CPC interprets as 'socialism with Chinese characterises' or socialist transformation with market economy. The CPI (ML)-Liberation also praises China's bid to topple the US in economic growth but takes a non-committal stand on the quality of socialism.
In contrast to the aforesaid custodians of official Marxism in India, Anurag Viswanath, visiting fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi (ICS) in an article (Business Standard,4 Oct 2009) China still in a predicament ingenuously noted that socialist dreams were falling apart in China. He wrote it when two unpleasant episodes took place. An unemployed migrant stabbed bystanders, followed by an apparently sudden explosion in a Beijing restaurant, pooh-poohing high security. There exists a strange dialectical co-existence of a sense of insecurity and paranoia on the one side and a high security presence at Tiananmen Square on the other hand during the 60th anniversary of PRC. "In terms of fundamental change, the socialist dream has fallen apart. The revolutionaries are dead and so is the revolution. Gone are the vestiges of the egalitarian socialist order, in spite of China's claims to 'socialism with Chinese characteristics', Viswanath stated while keeping the debate sustained. The galloping economic growth basically a 'furiously' growing urbanisation and infrastructure development but not without a marked erosion of socio-economic indicators and the gap between the rich and the poor since reforms, although leaving India far behind in terms of socio-economic indices too.
Going qualitatively forward, Peter J Taylor of department of Geography, professor in the School of the Built and Natural Environment, Northumbria University, and emeritus professor at Loughborough University, Leicester, UK, set out a new concept with a substantive theoretical tenor to scan the PRC's growth in a paper Thesis on Labour Imperialism: How Communist China Used Capitalist Globalization to Create the Last Great Modern Imperialism, published in the GaWC Research Bulletin. Introduced by the CPC top brass, Labour imperialism, the author perceives, encompasses the two contradictory and antagonistic phenomena—an imposed simultaneity of 'socialist foreign policy' and 'Labour foreign policy' (essentially slogans) which interpenetrate and interchange. It is in the "political self-interest of the party elite in sync with the one party monopoly through tangible economic results. Elucidates the point", Taylor states, "For Chinese labour this means, above all, jobs. Hence the party's draconian domestic policy of population control, the one child per family prescription to curtail demographic growth. Traditionally high growth rates are treated positively by states but in this case it was seen as destabilizing since there was no guarantee that job creation would be able to keep pace with massive population increases. Labour imperialism complements this domestic policy, limiting the number of jobs required, with a foreign policy that imports the manageable number of jobs that are nevertheless still needed. The agency for both policies is party self-interest in full employment to produce a relatively quiet political life."
Seeds of China's deceptive socialist model towards neo-liberal corporate-globalisation in a covert way were sown in the early 1960s almost in sync with the onset of Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), the last of series of failures of Mao Zedong like the Great Leap Forward, he asserted. During a trip to South Africa some years back, he observed an explicit anti-labour sign during the period. The paper illustratively narrates the crudely consumerist nature of Chinese export products. Taylor wanted to buy presents from Africa for his grandchildren who had dreamt of toys of Africa's exotic large animals and took the help of his hosts. "They whisked me off to a mall and took me to the Disney Store so that I could buy toy spin-offs from the film Lion King. I pointed out that there was. little point in buying such gifts because they were all readily available at home: I needed toys designed and made in Africa, not designed in the USA and made in China. My hosts suggested going to the local market to buy wooden ornaments of animals especially carved for tourists. Ornaments were not on my grandchildren's consumption wish list. Once again they had to make do with 'exotic' (i.e. place-identified) T-shirts as presents from a far away land." All these were imported from a Sino-American joint venture Lion King. The author's findings directly questions as to whether the objectives of Chinese Revolution have been thrown off and destroyed the motto of the historic Long March.
Hints of this covertly imperialist shift were in the famous announcement by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1964 that Africa was ripe for revolution, the eminent political geographer and historian believes. Zhou envisioned a different world-system unfolding step by step but nobody read between lines. He elucidates the point, "The 1970s ushered in two revolutions completely at odds with the new front for communism that Zhou envisaged. In the West, the combination of two industries, computers and communications, provided the enabling technology for industrial capital to seek out and manage cheap labour on a global scale producing the 'New International Division of Labour'. With industrial production moving to poor countries, this laid the foundation for contemporary globalization. In hindsight, everyone knows now that, at about the same time, a similarly auspicious global change was beginning: the People's Republic of China was embarking on a new economic policy of 'openness'. The 1978 reforms ushered in the development of a private sector and thereby released the economic potential of Chinese cities.
Interestingly, in contrast to the de-urbanization in PRC during the GPCR that transferred substantial of resources to the countryside, Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping, carried forward the craze for fetching hard currencies by any means in the 1980s ignoring the plight of majority of Chinese people craving for economic empowerment. Taylor drove his point of an about-turn during the post-Mao years home illustratively : "China joined the global urban boom so that by the 1990s the Chinese economic miracle was being led by three great multi-nodal, mega-city regions: the Pearl River Delta Region (Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzchen, Dongguan and Zhuhai), the Yangtze River Delta Region (Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi and Ningbo), and the Bohai Rim Region (Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao and Yantai)" , which by 2000, became "the new 'workshops of the world' generating about 80% of Chinese exports. Thus has the economic ascent of communist China coincided with the broader rise of economic globalization". And doubtless his opinion on the global toy business reflects the hard truth that "Africa is part of the same production/ consumption process that is undergirded by Chinese labour: hence my Sino-American experience in South Africa. And, of course, this process applies to much more than toys, it is the great Chinese 'economic miracle' of double-digit annual growth rates that has come to dominate economic globalization."
Taylor takes cue from Emmanuel Wallerstein's world-systems analysis—the thesis on the 'second world' towards "a single world-systems framework before the demise of the USSR and COMECON". He imbibes this concept into his discipline. The new world-economy China wanting to redefine globalization, he constructs as "a structural division of labour", a derivative of an economic polarization, a phenomenon of a core-periphery space-economy. "The distinguishing feature of Wallerstein's analysis", according to Taylor, "is the addition of a semi-periphery where core-making and periphery-making processes are relatively balanced." The semi-periphery provides a political dynamism to the system (labour imperialism). Through the semi-periphery, the core-region has historically expanded. The USA, Germany, and Japan are examples of semi-peripheral states "rising to core positions in the world-economy. The state economic policies pursued championed national capital incorporating a deal of protectionism."
The erstwhile USSR in the Wallersteinian frame, was also a semi-peripheral state in the twentieth century whereby "its economic autarchy was ultimately about repositioning the USSR in the world-economy. Ultimately the USSR failed but it is tempting to interpret the success of the other communist super-state, the PRC, as a semi-peripheral strategy that worked. But such an explanation is actually unsatisfactory for the historical analogy being used here".
Other semi-periphery states emerged mainly as "the relative closure of their economies and openness became desirable only after reaching a core position", Taylor argues. PRC has been racing to a core position on the back of new openness following an era of autarchy associated with relative economic decline. True, it resembled a carefully managed glasnost. Nonetheless, the Chinese economic 'miracle' happens through "a reversal of the sequence of past semi-peripheral successes", he added.
But doubts remain on the sustainability of PRC's latest semi-periphery success. Its demographic magnitude has "meant that the economic impact of its rise is out of all proportion to economic successes of other non-core states, at other times. This has been an 'economic miracle' like no other, and which continues to be immensely influential: it may even turn out to be the savior of the capitalist world-economy after the great 2008/09 crisis. And so we are back to the conundrum of the relation between communist China and capitalist globalization", going by Taylor's logic.
Actually, this inherent contradiction in the Chinese 'economic miracle' has antisystemic syndrome. Otherwise it means a sarcastic dialectics of command economy with a semblance of glasnost and exploitation of labour. The migrant labourers are forced to live an imprisoned life amidst a morose alienation.
"My thesis", Taylor states, "is that the contemporary CPC (and its top leadership-SR) have untangled its theoretical socialism from their practical attachment to Chinese labour to finally provide a definitive answer to the question 'what is a Labour foreign policy?' The answer is labour imperialism, the aggressive policy of taking jobs from the rest of the world."
How the non-core sections of the world-system is related to the Chinese 'exceptional ism' makes interesting reading. For decades during the last century, PRC underwent a massive de-peasantization, forcing a huge population to migrate and thus paved the way for large mega-cities throughout the erstwhile 'third world'. But it was a distinctively different from the process of emergence of the Third World. "This rural-urban migration has been distinctive in that movement of people into the cities has totally overwhelmed the capacity of the cities to create jobs for the migrants. The result is described vividly in Mike Davis' Planet of Slums (Verso, 2006). He lists the largest 30 'mega slums' that are found worldwide: 14 in Africa, 10 in Latin America, 6 in Asia and none of the latter are in China. This does not mean that Chinese cities do not have any slums, but it does indicate that the urban structure is fundamentally different from the 'third world' mega-cities whose landscapes are dominated by shantytowns, bidonvilles and favelas. The key point is that despite the greatest national rural-urban migration ever recorded, Chinese city-economies have largely kept abreast of the urban population explosion through what Davis calls their unique 'jobs-and-income boom'. This urban-economic achievement is truly remarkable. As well as the three great multi-nodal mega-city regions, there are more than 150 other cities with populations topping a million."
And there lies the so-called success of Chinese economic miracle while the hidden phenomenon is labour imperialism the essence of which is impoverishment in the developing and underdeveloped countries by "sucking industrial jobs". The contemporary globalization and attendant new international division of labour led to deindustrialization of large swaths of core countries". But simultaneously there has been, in Taylor's term, "a Chinese division of labour leading to deindustrialization of large swaths on non-core countries"—confirming labour imperialism that "keeps China under communist party control."
Today or tomorrow—may be in the current decade—CPC leaders and ideologues have to confront the growing discontent among the 'teeming millions' in post-revolution China. Taylor's thesis endorses Marx's theory of inherent structural contradiction in the economic dynamics of capitalism—contradiction between the profit motives of capitalism and impoverishment of working people. Instead of capitalist corporations, PRC banks substantially on state-capitalist corporations. The growing concentration of financial and economic power among proportionately lesser and lesser people and larger, and fewer and fewer individuals owning the means of production blasts the myth of state capitalism which post-Marx communist party leaders redefined as socialist sector is blown up by the Chinese model. This development of social polarization provides the unsolvable social or relational contradiction of new society in PRC.
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
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