Revolution #139, August 10, 2008
U.S. – China Rivalry...
On and Off the Field
The 2008 Summer Olympics are about to begin in Beijing, China, running from August 8 to August 24. The Olympics are full of great athletic performances, but they are also highly politicized events. While people are going to be inspired by exciting contests and tremendous achievements, there will be a dose of politics and ideology that is delivered with it all, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt.
At different times, and in different ways, the relationship and rivalry between world powers gets expressed through the Olympic games. And in the Beijing Olympics, the complex relationship between rising China and the United States as the world’s sole superpower is setting the stage for how this is playing out, on the field and off.
Rising China is not a socialist country. It was a socialist country from 1949 to 1976, and during that period it was not part of the global circuits of capitalist exploitation. But today it is a capitalist country, profoundly enmeshed in and in some ways pivotal to global capitalism. And the Beijing Olympics coincide with, and mark a significant dimension to, China’s entree into the ranks of world powers.
Even the fact that China is hosting the Olympics reflects global geopolitics. It reinforces China’s rising status in the world. It is hard to imagine that the International Olympic Committee would have approved holding the Olympics in Beijing without the approval of the rulers of the United States. And China’s rulers have their own strategic objectives for what they intend to get out of hosting the Olympics—which we will address in the next issue of Revolution.
It is this complex dynamic that provides the context for, and the basis to decipher, U.S. media propaganda/commentary on the Olympics. That propaganda is focused on themes that represent U.S. interests vis-à-vis China, and are being promoted to train people in the U.S. to look at the U.S.-China relationship from the perspective of the U.S. rulers. These themes are:
- By getting beyond the “tyranny and chaos” of the Mao era, China has become economically dynamic. But it remains a politically oppressive society that lacks the openness and freedoms of Western democracies.
- The politically repressive nature of China is, in large measure, the product of the remaining legacy of the long dark night of the Mao era with its authoritarian communist rule.
- China’s hosting of the Olympics marks its emergence into the ranks of world powers, but China must seek a place at the table under conditions of U.S. global domination.
Let’s examine the reality, and the interests behind these themes.
The Nature of Capitalist China
A recent background piece on the Olympics in the San Francisco Chronicle began: “As the People’s Republic of China prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games, its 1.3 billion people can take pride in what they have accomplished in the three decades since they jettisoned Maoist ideology and embraced market forces to develop their economy.” (“Chinese Making a Great Leap Forward,” by Sam Zuckerman, 8/3/08).
China has achieved extremely high economic growth rates. It is a rising world economic and political power. But that growth has been achieved on the backs of hundreds of millions of wage slaves in the cities and towns, and at the cost of the devastation of the countryside. And it has been achieved within a framework of global imperialism that has warped and contorted China’s economic development. While China is a rising economic power, its economic heart still beats to the rhythm of the U.S. imperialist-dominated world order. Imperialist investment flows in, and profits extracted from workers entombed in coal mines and assembling toys and iPods for people in the imperialist countries flow out.
There is a growing middle class in China’s cities that is prospering. But in the factories, 16-hour days are common, wages barely cover food and rent, child labor is endemic, workplace safety is shocking, and strikes and protests are brutally suppressed. Over 700 million people live in China’s impoverished countryside, many on less than $2 a day. The country is characterized by vast and growing gulfs between rich and poor, between city and countryside, and increasing subjugation of women and minorities.
The nature of Chinese society is reflected in the enormous human cost for the Beijing Olympics: 1.5 million people lost their homes—they were destroyed to make way for the construction of Olympic venues and related structures. Construction workers were paid $50 a week for working 9 hours a day, 7 days a week, to build the landmark National Stadium, called the “Bird’s Nest” (because of the unique interwoven cement pillars and metal scaffolding). Millions of migrant workers from the countryside were forced out of Beijing before the Olympics open so as to present China’s best face to the world. And the Olympics have been accompanied by a crackdown on protest.
And for U.S. imperialism, the Olympics are an opportunity to intensify their economic and political interests in China—even as the Chinese rulers maneuver within that for a bigger piece of the action. General Electric, the parent company to NBC (the network that has exclusive U.S. broadcasting rights for the Olympics), is aggressively expanding investments in China—to a projected $10 billion in 2010. GE is involved in more than 300 projects related to the Olympics, including technology for the new National Stadium. General Electric’s CEO is counting on the Olympics creating “decades of good will in China” (see “Networks Fight Shorter Olympic Leash,” New York Times, 7/21/08).
The Real Legacy of Mao
It wasn’t always like this. From 1949 to 1976, China was a socialist society, a society that overthrew, and was uprooting, exploitation and all the ideas that go with it. That period, the Mao era as it is referred to, is ferociously vilified, and in light of the Beijing Olympics, these attacks are being repeated, and spread widely in society. In this and next week’s issues of Revolution, we will be providing background on the actual experience of this momentous period in human history—the communist revolution in China, where the oppressed held power from 1949 until 1976. But here, briefly, is the basic story that you will not hear on TV.
On the eve of the Chinese communist revolution, led by Mao Tsetung, a person in China could, on the average, expect to die at age 32. Fewer than one person in six could read and write. Periodic famines led to mass starvation. The Chinese people were buried under what Mao called the three mountains—imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism (Chinese capitalism that served foreign imperialism). And China’s economic subjugation was enforced through military aggression and the political and cultural suppression of the Chinese people by imperialism.
China’s socialist revolution liberated the country from the chains of world imperialism, and resulted in a tremendous improvement in life for the Chinese people. Between 1949 and 1975, life expectancy in socialist China more than doubled—to about 65 years. By the early 1970s, infant mortality rates in Shanghai were lower than those in New York City at the time. By the mid 1970s, some 80 to 90 percent of the Chinese people were literate. Culture, politics, free or low-cost healthcare, and education came to the long-neglected countryside. And women made great strides in achieving equality. (For a more expanded survey of this, see “Setting the Record Straight: Social and Economic Achievements Under Mao,” available at revcom.us).
The pinnacle of this process was the much vilified Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when the masses of people in China stepped onto the political stage, engaged in great debates, protests, and political struggle on a level no society has come close to—before or since. Through this, and with revolutionary leadership, people struggled to identify and uproot remaining and re-emerging elements of exploitive society in the economy, in politics, and in people’s thinking. (For a response to frequently asked questions about the Cultural Revolution, see “The Truth About the Cultural Revolution,” in this issue.)
Mao was a communist, and he saw the Chinese revolution and socialism as part of the process of getting to communism.
What is communist revolution really about? It starts with revolutionary state power, to strip the old capitalist-imperialist ruling class of its property and control over society. It moves right away to meet the most pressing needs of the people, and solve problems that seem hopelessly unsolvable under capitalism. And it does this in the service of, and as part of, the world revolution, with the aim of emancipating all of humanity. Socialist states are rooted in the conscious activism of the masses of people, and take up a series of struggles to uproot exploitation and oppression throughout society, from production, to institutions, to the ways in which people think. And this all takes place through a process of tremendous challenges, vibrant societal wrangling, and diversity.
This is a process through which people transform the world, and as they do that, they transform themselves—and very importantly this is all a component part of the world revolution. The goal of revolutionary state power is and needs to be nothing short of a society where people are really free—a communist society that has moved beyond the division of people into classes and all the oppressive relations between people and ideas that serve class divisions.
There is class struggle throughout the entire socialist transition—between continuing the revolutionary advance toward a communist world, or reversing the revolution and restoring capitalism.
Shortly after the death of Mao in 1976, forces within the Communist Party staged a reactionary coup, and overthrew socialism. They jailed tens of thousands of revolutionaries including Mao’s closest followers, and re-linked China into the chains of global imperialism as an oppressed nation. China has been a capitalist society ever since.
The Chinese revolution was complex, and—as all great new things are—contradictory. But overwhelmingly, in reality, it was an inspiring advance to be studied, learned from, summed up, and on the basis of which to chart the next stage of the world communist revolution. This is the work that has been done by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (for a concentrated introduction to Avakian’s work, see “MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY” Part 1 and Part 2, available at revcom.us. Audio downloads of Avakian’s speeches and interviews are available at bobavakian.net).
On the other hand … for global imperialism and its lackeys, the communist revolution in China was the worst thing ever. It ripped a quarter of humanity out of the synapses of global exploitation and oppression, and it served as a powerful counter-weight to the economic, political, and military power of imperialism. They rejoiced when socialism was overthrown, and lost no time in flooding China with investments.
The U.S. imperialists are skinning the ox twice: They have their fangs deep into China, pouring massive investment in, and pulling massive profit out on the backs of China’s people; and they then turn around and point to conditions in China today—conditions that reflect and serve capitalism—and proclaim them to be an indictment of socialism and communism. Often this is in the form of identifying some of these things as supposedly remnants of the Mao era.
The Rise of China in a World Dominated by U.S. Imperialism
The Beijing Olympics symbolizes China’s admittance into the circle of economic and political world powers, but in a world where U.S. imperialism is the sole superpower. Raymond Lotta wrote in Part 2 of his essay, “Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry: What is Happening and What It Might Mean”:
“The dynamics of China’s rise are complex. There is, however, a shaping contradiction: dependency and growing economic strength. China is dependent on foreign capital and foreign markets. But China has also emerged as a world economic power, a center of world manufacturing. It has accumulated vast foreign exchange reserves, and gained considerable financial leverage—increasingly over the dollar. And China is more aggressively seeking markets in the Third World and exporting capital beyond its borders.”
The rise of China is taking place in a world where, as Lotta writes:
“The U.S. still occupies the primary position in the imperialist world economy. It is the largest economy; the financial glue of the whole world system; and the political-military ‘guarantor’ of a global order that benefits, at least for now, all the big powers.
“The U.S.’s economic position in the world has been declining. But U.S. imperialism possesses unparalleled military strength relative to rivals and would-be rivals. And since 2001, it has been pressing this advantage—mounting a global military offensive, focused in Iraq and Afghanistan, to secure unchallengeable dominance for decades to come.” (See “China’s Capitalist Development and China’s Rise in the World Imperialist System: Its Nature and Implications,” in Revolution # 137, available at revcom.us.)
The relationship between the U.S. and China is expressed, and being contended, in the background sounds behind the Beijing Olympics. It explains why the U.S. (through diplomatic moves and media propaganda) alternately turns the volume up and down on accusations about China’s role in supporting the Sudanese government and massacres in Darfur, or its relationship to the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe.
And the nature of the relationship, and contention, between the U.S. and China informs the type and tenor of exposés in the U.S. media about actual horrors in China, including exposés of the draconian wages and working conditions in China’s factories, the extreme poverty in the countryside, and suppression of debate and dissent.
These exposures are a message that China is undeserving and untrustworthy to be co-equal to the “great powers” and has to change, i.e., accept the terms being set by the U.S. This is all within an imperialist framework, and how China’s role is being contended in that. And these conditions in China are portrayed as products of a culture of cronyism, corruption unchecked because of the monopolization of political power by the (so-called) Communist Party. These terms tend to reinforce China’s position in a U.S.-dominated world order, and they obscure the actual source of the tremendous poverty and repression in China. In reality, these are products of capitalism, and China’s position as an oppressed nation.
And here again, it must be said, U.S. exposures and condemnations of China for exploiting workers, starving peasants, and suppressing dissent are obscenely hypocritical. The U.S. cries shame over China’s treatment of the Tibetans while somehow missing the story of the situation for Black people in the USA—where one in nine Black youth is in jail. The U.S. expresses outrage at the conditions of immigrants from the Chinese countryside (who are technically illegal residents in China’s cities) while in the United States over ten million undocumented immigrants are ruthlessly exploited and terrorized by ICE raids. The U.S. government illegally monitored the calling patterns of millions of Americans, but has the gall to decry the monitoring and control of the Internet by the “authoritarian” government in China.
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Four billion people will watch the ’08 Olympics. In the world as it exists today, the Olympics present a painful dichotomy between awe-inspiring athletic feats that leave you breathless, and the fact that all this is taking place against a canvass of jockeying for advantage between competing powers, as well as a heavy dose of poisonous ideology. Within that, in this Olympics, the rivalry between the U.S. and China is being played out on and off the field.
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