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Conditions in China
With the US mired in crisis, some commentators look to China and other so-called emerging powers to fill the breach. But recent events betray the enormous contradictions at play in China. Tragically, contaminated milk products killed four babies and made tens of thousands of others ill.
Melamine was added to the milk to hide the fact that it was watered down to maximise profit. Meanwhile the Chinese elite wallow in the glory of their first spacewalk.
Here Socialist Party member Li looks at the conflicting developments and how they affect ordinary people.
Enquiring about working conditions, a low-level official from the Chinese Communist Party was told: "Seven people in a small room, working hours are eleven hours a day, seven days a week". Clearly such atrocious conditions break the labour laws of the country. Yet in China today, such super-exploitation is commonplace, especially in the factories that rose up in recent years in the new 'sunbelt'.
China's sunbelt comprises the light industrial zones that specialise in export processing along the south-eastern coast. These workers were recent migrants from China's countryside, part of the largest internal migration in human history. Hundreds of millions have crossed the boundaries between village and city and are trying to make a living as super-exploited workers and labourers in China's new glittering cities and metropolises.
Amidst the seemingly dazzling wealth of China's more developed cities, the plight of its so-called 'under-class' goes largely unnoticed. It is clearly in the interest of the Chinese ruling class to paint a superficial veneer of prosperity and super-abundance, even when the underlying socio-economic framework is seriously beginning to decay.
The number of people deemed illiterate in China grew by 30 million to 116 million in the five years to 2005, according to official reports, and this figure is still growing. One cause is the effective closing down of a large number of local education centres in many poorer rural areas, first established during the early Maoist era. These centres had the central function of spreading literacy, but in the recent period of neo-liberalisation, many of the grassroots level local officials who are supposed to be in charge of these centres have turned to more profitable ventures in order to enrich themselves and have completely neglected their official duties.
Photographs taken in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, show 'tofu buildings', constructed in the recent era of intense economic neo-liberalisation, reduced to nothing but rubble and waste, next to older buildings constructed in the 1970s that were barely shaken by the earthquake.
Growing dissident voices
Beneath the superficial figures of hyper-economic growth in recent decades, China has become the world's most unequal country in terms of income. 300 million people in this gigantic nation have to struggle to survive on less than the equivalent of one dollar a day.
In the vast, less developed, rural regions of China, corrupt local officials (called "local snake-heads" in Chinese slang) are combining forces with private business interests to super-exploit China's hundreds of millions of farmers and peasants. The political goal of obtaining the right to form independent trade unions appears to be a long way off.
But despite the censorship of the 'Great Firewall', there are growing dissident voices on the Chinese language internet. In recent years the amount of leftist and socialist commentary has rapidly increased on many major mainland Chinese forums and websites.
There is now a website and an associated bookshop called "utopia" (wuyouzhixiang in Chinese), based in Beijing, which publishes a wide and diverse range of left and socialist material and commentaries, including radical Maoism and social democratic ideas.
Signs of opposition to the socio-economic degeneration can be found among the growing number of rural protests that often turn violent, and large-scale demonstrations by workers and the urban masses, in both the old and new industrial regions.
According to official Chinese figures, as much as 60% of all land acquisitions in China in the last few years were illegal, and reports suggest that in the Pearl River delta region in Guangdong province alone, there is, on average, at least one large-scale labour protest, involving more than 1,000 people, every single day.
There is no doubt that China has been shifting to a state of neo-liberal capitalism, with all of the full-scale brutality and super-exploitation it entails. This is happening gradually, rather than the sudden complete collapse of the Stalinist state that was witnessed in the former Soviet Union nearly two decades ago. The question we cannot answer is when will the Chinese working class decisively have its say in this process and on the type of society it wants?
In The Socialist 2 October 2008:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party review