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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les petits-fils de Mao

by Alain Roux

Mao’s Grandchildren

Translated Wednesday 7 November 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

"If our children’s generation embarks on revisionism ... our grandchildren will certainly rise up and overthrow their fathers."

By Alain Roux, university professor emeritus [1]

A few thoughts came to me as I compared texts written by Mao Zedong in 1960 and documents relating to the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. One passage struck me: “If our children’s generation embarks on revisionism and the system becomes socialist in name but capitalist in fact, our grandchildren will certainly rise up and overthrow their fathers, because the needs of the masses will not be satisfied.”

First remark: Mao clearly saw the similarities between the bureaucratic capitalism that had existed in China under the Guomindang and the Soviet-style bureaucratic socialism that he had established. The surplus value extracted from the workers benefited the state and an elite caste of high civil servants, which, in the absence of a democratic system of management, used that surplus value more or less as it wished. If the state were to waste away, this elite would become a full-fledged bourgeoisie. That was what had happened under the Guomindang. This is what happened before our very eyes with the collapse of the USSR and its satellites. Now it is happening in the China of “market socialism.”

Second remark: While Mao clearly foresaw events on that chapter, he was completely mistaken as to the attitude of the masses. There are indeed tens of thousands of social conflicts in both the city and the countryside in present-day China: Workers are resorting to strikes more and more, and the peasants are demonstrating against expropriations and pollution. But these movements are not coordinated. Social and labor demands are not linked to a political perspective, and there is no threat to the regime. The “masses,” who experienced the horrors of the Great Leap Forward famine and the brutalities of the Red Guards, associate these catastrophes with socialism and do not see any alternative to their present problems.

Third remark: Can it be said that China has become a capitalist country? Were Deng Xiaoping and his successors “revisionists” who betrayed the revolution? A large middle class has appeared in China, which is now the world’s third-largest economy. The middle class is estimated – depending on the authors and the criteria employed – at between 35 and 260 million people. Part of this middle class can be assimilated to a bourgeoisie in view of its wealth – there are more millionaires (in U.S. dollar terms) in China than in France. But, from one year to the next, and since 2003, one third of the great fortunes in China have been disappearing. This is because their status as capitalists is very shaky. Although they fill the role of capitalists and enjoy a corresponding income, their property base is poorly defined, despite the laws which were enacted between 2003 and 2007 to guarantee property rights (except for peasants). Can a person be the owner of a subsidiary of a state company, or of a branch financed with public funds? How many of these millionaires for a day, having lost their political protector, find themselves in prison for tax fraud, embezzlement of public funds or for bribing state authorities? Is it possible to speak of capitalism in the absence of private property in big industry and commerce? In that case, there are capitalists without capitalism.

Isn’t this rather a capitalist system without capitalists? Beginning in 2003, the private sector was producing 68% of the Chinese gross domestic product. Almost half of the 2,400 tons of coal produced by China in 2006 came from the private sector, which is mainly dominated by family businesses or small, under-capitalized companies, although large-scale foreign capital is also active in the sector via joint venture companies. So there is indeed capitalism in China, despite the existence of various limitations. But it is a capitalism that has been tamed and integrated, and whose capitalists are products of the ruling class, with which it maintains close links. This capitalism takes the form of a constellation of thousands of unregistered firms, like brick works and those small mines worked by miners who have been reduced by debt to the status of slaves. Such a structure lacks both the necessary coherence and legitimacy to become a conscious social force defending its class interests. One third of Chinese CEOs are members of the Chinese Communist Party, and 18% of deputies to the National People’s Congress are private capitalists. These capitalists accept the official ideology, which poses no threat to them – as “producers” the Communist Party represents their interest as much as it does the workers’, because they are considered to be the pioneers of a socialism which is still in initial accumulation stage and which will not develop into full-blown socialism for a hundred years – if the social harmony and scientific management advocated by Hu Jintao are not upset by the masses’ impatience. These capitalists share the same values as practically all Chinese: nationalism and the cult of money generated by success and modernism. The value of brotherhood proper to true socialism remains to be re-discovered or re-invented.

[1Alain Roux is the author of la Chine au XXe siècle [China in the 20th Century], published by Éditions Armand Colin.

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