What’s Happening in China?

Is China communist? Look at the trouble in Hong Kong and you will get the answer.

It started in May with an industrial dispute between the employees of a factory and the owners over pay and conditions of work. The Hong Kong Communist Party used the dispute to make political capital and were backed by the Chinese Government on the Mainland. The rioting spread to a large overcrowded working-class area where many badly paid and frustrated young workers joined in. Some of the local capitalists panicked and prepared to move out; many rushed to change their local currency for gold. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange went dead, prices slumped and for a day or so not a single bargain was done.

As the British Administration of this Crown Colony cracked down heavily with police anti-riot squads on the dissatisfied workers, they probably silently sniggered at the Chinese Government’s dodge of using foreign adventures to divert the attention of the mainland workers from their problems at home—a dodge they would recognise as so often having been resorted to in the West.

The trouble continues with shots across the frontier, killing and wounding of workers in Hong Kong.

Mainland China is still in the throes of Red Guard trouble which at times appears almost like a civil war and the present seems a propitious time for analysing the origins and background of the Cultural Revolution, as this upheaval is euphemistically termed. Charges and counter-charges, vilification, discussion about The Thoughts of Mao and what he really means when correctly interpreted, all act as a smokescreen which conceals the basic differences, which are in fact largely economic, between the two groups of antagonists who are fighting to control China and impose their ideas of how capitalism should be developed there. This is the cause of the so-called Communist Party dividing into two mutually hostile groups, which, for simplicity’s sake we refer to as the old-time Communist Party leadership and the modern managerial elite.

The old-time members of the Communist Party organised the agrarian revolt throughout the countryside and finally won the civil war against the Nationalists in 1949 by the successful use of guerrilla fighting.

Both groups are agreed that war with the U.S.A. is inevitable. But the Old Guard plan that the professional army should absorb the brunt of the first shock of war but would be finally smashed. The army command should then knuckle-down and retreat—beaten—leaving the prosecution of the war in the hands of the guerrilla forces who they believe would eventually win.

These old campaigners, with their muddle-headed ideals and their fixed policies based on success in the now distant past in conditions that now no longer exist, have had their day. But like the old soldiers in the song, they never seem to die and are taking an unconscionable long time in fading away—too long for the likes of the up and coming management bureaucracy.

But the younger modern army officers are not taking this lying down—they are pressing forward to train the soldiers in the efficient technology of killing with modern equipment including the nuclear missiles which they are rapidly developing. They are horrified at the idea of confining their abilities to the training of an old fashioned amateur militia in what they regard as outmoded methods.

The Communist Party membership were drawn from the same class as the former mandarin administrators. For instance, Mao tse-Tung, who is a well-known poet and scholar, is the son of a landowner and employer of labour who could afford an expensive education for his son. Chou en-Lai, the Prime Minister, is a scion of a traditional mandarin family. The rest of the Party came from much the same background. So, the educated elite flocked in; the ordinary worker being conspicuous by his absence.

In the civil sector the Communist Party successfully roused the population to the policy of tighter belts and more work (so familiar to the workers of the West) by frenzied political exhortation.

The original leaders have remained practically unchanged in their ideas and policies, except, of course, that they are growing older (Mao tse-Tung, for instance, is 73).

But China, caught in the maelstrom of world capitalist techniques, developing with great’ rapidity and, of course, in the concomitant power politics, is catching up with breathtaking speed.

The new bureaucracy of the Communist Party are not confined to the administration of the state machine; they are also in the management of the tremendous number of State Corporations running the factories, mines, transport, importing and exporting, and banks, in addition to the vast civil engineering enterprises. The young professional army officers of the 2½ million army, together with the allied nuclear missile scientists, are included in the elite.

These slick unprincipled executives, with a hankering for the good life and not for the continual sacrifices demanded by the Establishment, see the outdated policies of the old-timers as the burden of the past hanging around their necks like millstones and rendering these oldsters unsuitable for the important governing positions they still fill.

But they are as modern as their opposite numbers in Western Capitalism and trained in the sophisticated professional and management techniques, which owe very little to political haranguing in the efficient exploitation of the working-class.

At the heart of the political turmoil is the dispute over economics. Sun yeh-Fang, director of the Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences, spokesman of the anti-Mao brigade, makes no secret of his views that China should be run by orthodox Capitalist economic policies:

      “In deciding what projects should receive investment funds, the State should insist that priority be based on potential profits. Capital should go to those projects that promise the greatest returns—any other criterion, Sun says, will be disastrous.

      If there is any question of taking political factors into account, he seems to argue, these too should be weighed up on the basis of their implications for future profits. The hallowed slogan of “putting politics in command” is derided as the “lazy-bone’s” economics. Sun believes that the “Law of Value” must guide the economy at every step. By this be appears to mean basing economic activities on their returns to the economy and letting prices reflect the need to regulate the economy on the principle of profitability. (Far Eastern Economic Review—2/2/67.)”

Then there is the disaffection of the urban working class with their pay and conditions. By now granting improvements where they feel they have to, the management elite are rallying this expanding labour force under their banner, and thus putting another nail in the coffin of the die-hards.

The reason for Mao tse-Tung organising a separate Red Guard is that the Communist Party, of which he is nominally chairman, being largely composed of the new style bright young people, is not so amenable to his commands as formerly, and so he has had to go outside this organisation to create a loyal and reliable following.

So it seems that the present ruling group is in the process of losing the support of the educated elite, but whoever wins out in this internal struggle for power, Mao tse-Tung will be likely to stay in nominal control because of the great prestige that has made him so useful not merely as a labour leader but almost as a God—as their Prophet of “Communism”.

This process of building-up Mao as a combined labour-leader, soothsayer and general know-all has taken many years and a great deal of money to accomplish and cannot be thrown away. The agnostic authoritarian dogma of the Communist Party, so similar to the Confucianism which was used for training the elite in former times, needs a God as orthodox religion does and Mao tse-Tung fills this vacuum.

Whichever side wins it will not be the Chinese workers, either in the cities or on the farms, even if it is they who are doing the actual fighting and suffering the casualties. It is not their interests that are being fought for. But part of the profits of their exploitation will provide large salaries and emoluments for the high-ranking managerial and military echelons in addition to paying the interest on capital invested.

Frank Offord

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