June 26, 2009


There’s been a lot of ink spilled on the death of Farrah Fawcett—even the august New York Times has more than half a page today. Like the rest of the mainstream media, it gingerly avoids the n-word: nipple. But nipples are why Farrah Fawcett signifies; she embodied quite an important cultural shift in US society.

I kinda stopped watching teevee before Charlie’s Angels came out, but I’ve never heard anyone argue that it was one of the great masterpieces of the medium or that, with better politics, the then FFM would have rivalled Vanessa Redgrave or Jane Fonda.

Cultural achievement was not why the red swimsuit poster became ubiquitous in the late ‘70s. It was because you could see her nipples right through the damn fabric.

Observers have long noted that American males, the straight ones anyhow, tend to have deep-seated breast fixations, and psychiatrists and anthropologists and creative people in diverse artistic fields have responded in their own ways to this fact. But there have been changes within that general pattern.

In the decades before Farrah Fawcett arrived on the scene, the sexualization of breasts in film and photography was centered on the size of breasts and particularly on cleavage. Think Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield. Cleavage is fairly artificial, the product of confining clothing designed to produce it (or fake it). And it has nothing to with the actual erotic zones on the breasts. It emphasizes the preparation of the female as passive object for consumption by the male gaze.

But the claiming of sexual agency by women was a part of the ‘60s upsurge and of the modern women’s movement born during it. The red swimsuit poster marked the mainstreaming of the nipple (and underscored the then-shocking symbolic dumping of painfully restrictive women’s undergarb enacted at the Miss America pageant less than a decade earlier).

This was, I’ll argue, a historic advance for materialism and for democracy. Nipples are, among other things, full of actual nerves which can carry actual sexual sensations. Even in guys. And pretty much everybody is born with them. Even guys.

I make no giant claims that Farah Fawcett ended the sexual objectification of women, nor even that the real advances in sexual enjoyment and equality she symbolized are solid—look what happened to Janet Jackson. But she deserves credit for the role she played, not the pussyfooting around we’ve been treated to since her death.

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June 12, 2009

The Roots of Tiananmen

[Tiananmen? I know that the 20th anniversary of the massacre was almost a week ago, and that in Internet time that might as well be a year. But 20 years ago today, students and workers in Shanghai and elsewhere throughout the country were still protesting the killings, thousands were imprisoned or missing--or dead--and heroic Chinese citizens were risking their lives to hide wanted leaders in anticipation of developing routes to get them out of the country. So FotM is going to republish one more article from the same September 1989 issue of Forward Motion magazine that carried the in-depth analysis of the implications of the massacre republished below.

This piece is a grassroots eye view of China and the unfolding contradictions in Deng Xiaoping's capitalist road "market reforms" the year before the massacre. It was written by a former Red Guard who had left China for the US in the 1970s but kept in touch with old friends and workmates. His take on how the reforms, privilege, selfishness and especially corruption were poisoning daily life and socialism itself helped inform the decision taken by the Freedom Road Socialist Organization to condemn the massacre as a "tremendous stain on the banner of international socialism."

Economic Backdrop to the Crisis
Impressions from China April, 1989

Ping Yong

Ping Yong was born and grew up in China. He now lives and works in the U.S.

Alter being away from China for almost fifteen years, I had an opportunity to work on a state-run farm north of Beijing during 1987 and '88. The changes in China have been so drastic that I often wondered if it was the same country in which was born and raised. The changes can be seen everywhere: in the living standards of the people, in the physical landscape, in the culture and ideology, and in the economics and politics.

New Beijing

The most noticeable changes in Beijing, when one drives through the city, are in its buildings and highways that have sprung up in the last fifteen years. The urban part of Beijing has doubled in size as a consequence of the new high rises surrounding the old city. The growth of Beijing can be seen also in the ever increasing congestion of the city's streets. The time it takes to travel from the north end of Beijing to the south, for example, is often much longer now by car than by bicycle. Every day during the rush hour, both beltways of the city turn into large parking lots. The grid locked traffic takes hours to clear. Most of the increase in traffic is due to the tremendous increase in trucks a healthy sign for development. Trucks have all but replaced horse carts, at least around Beijing. Bicycles are still the main form of transportation for the majority of the people, although there is an increasing population of motorcycles competing for room on the road. The city's statistics supposedly show that of all the people who bought a motorcycle in 1980, none have survived by 1988, due to the high accident rate in Beijing.Although trucks have all but replaced horse carts, they do not replace all transport of goods by bicycle. On the highways of Beijing, one often sees a group of men riding bicycles that are loaded with bales of cotton, stacks of brooms, or buckets of eggs. They are peddlers. They get the goods from somewhere where they were cheap and sell them to somewhere else where they can get a better price. Sometimes the bicycle trips take them more than a week. At other times, they try to negotiate rides from empty trucks going their way.


Besides the road congestion, Beijing has become one of the most polluted cities in the world. Gone is the clean and crisp Beijing air; without wind, living in the city is practically like living in a gas chamber. The pitch black smoke from the coal furnaces in apartment buildings, the fumes from cars that truly need tune ups, and the burning of corn stalks by nearby farmers in the countryside to clear the fields for plowing, as well as all the smoke from the industrial pollution have made the air in Beijing unlivable. And yet most of the people who live outside of Beijing are looking for any chance to move into the city. They want the better stocked stores, the better transportation services, arid the less demanding jobs in the city.

To move into the city, however, one must have his resident permit changed. Without it, one cannot buy the subsidized and rationed food in the state run stores, or any other rationed consumer goods. This is one means the government uses to control the size of the urban population. But it seems that any form of control inevitably leads to some form of corruption in today's China. The permission to move into the city and change resident status becomes a powerful form of backdoor favor for which government officials in charge will he handsomely rewarded.

Cultural change

The change in culture has been quite extraordinary since I left China fifteen years ago. Western culture has flooded China in the form of movies, TV, books, and magazines. Most stores in the commercial district of Beijing have decorated themselves in Western style. Many clothes in clothing stores are modeled after Western fashions. The free markets have taken over many districts of Beijing. Foreigners are bombarded with requests for money exchange. Gambling has become quite pervasive. Some hotels even try to attract customers by sponsoring gambling. Young people set up pool tables under street lights and often gamble past midnight.

Traditional Chinese songs and plays are all but drowned out by Hong Kong pop music and disco tunes.

Pornography has emerged as a real challenge to traditional morality. Hot items in book stores are often posters of pretty girls. Many homes and offices have posters on the walls with scantily dressed Western models. The biggest sellers on calendar posters are not scenes of nature, but women's bodies. Sex novels and magazines are sold on the street corners of Beijing. Beauty contests of young women dressed in two piece swim suits were shown on national TV, attracting millions of viewers. VCR's are getting more and more common, even in the countryside. X rated Hong Kong tapes are being copied and passed along among the villagers. There have been cases of 7th graders getting pregnant.

Besides the appeal of blatant sex, some people in China have learned many other gimmicks from the West. For example, the local post office in Beijing had a drawing that offered four money prizes worth 5,000 yuan each to city residents who bought a postal saving certificate. The certificate paid only 2% interest, while the official rate of inflation was over 8%, and the interest rate for savings deposit was 6%. It is similar to the lottery in the IJ.S. Poor people are encouraged to pin their hopes of getting rich on these few chances of striking gold.

Even the local newspapers have learned to make money other than by soliciting advertisements. For example, some will charge a handsome price to do a full page write up of a factory and its product as a news item. It requires some skills to distinguish between the commercialized news and the regular news.

Racism and Reaganism

The influence of Western culture has not only changed the behavior of the Chinese toward themselves, but their attitude towards foreigners has also drastically changed. A large body of the population worship everything from the West. Many officials will do everything they can to send their children to study overseas.

This Westward orientation is accompanied by a Western originated ideology of racism. An older woman I met in a book store was a case in point. She was proud to tell me that she had a son studying in the U.S. She thought it was good to have interracial marriages and wondered if I had a Chinese parent. I said it was lucky in some ways that I didn't, for it was hard enough to be a foreign looking child growing up in China; I knew that mixed blood children had an even harder time. They were called "cross bred,'' a term reserved for animals in Chinese. She assured me that those ideas were wrong. Because she's a medical teacher, she knows the superiority of mixed blood, she said. 1 lien she thought a bout it for a while and added: ''But I don't want my son to marry a Black girl." I was somewhat surprised and asked why. She told me that Blacks were dirty and uneducated. She said that she was not a racist, really, just that Blacks were lazy and uncivilized. I tried in vain to point out the contradiction in her logic, but it was like talking to a wall. Unfortunately, I found this kind of attitude to be quite common among Chinese intellectuals. Many Chinese scholars in the U.S. feel the same. They used to call all Westerners 'devils,'' jokingly or not, but now they reserve the term for Blacks.

Not only has racism become more open in China, but so has support for U.S. imperialism among the Chinese Population. I was stunned to find that so many of my old friends supported the U.S. bombing of Libya. One finds a surprisingly large body of intellectuals in China who like Reagan, like Reaganomics, and like his stand in international affairs. I was told by one that a strong U.S. was good for world peace. He was sure that we should all vote for Bush, for it was Reagan that had made the U.S. strong. Shocking as it might be from a Chinese perspective, it truly reflects the ideological vacuum created by the Chinese leadership's effort to discredit Mao. Many of these intellectuals have lost their political bearings. They are either apolitical or worshippers of the West. They often forget they are still Chinese.


The spirit of the people has changed a great deal since the reforms. There are many reports in the newspaper of apathy among the population. Nobody dares to stop a clinic in progress. Few will step in when a woman gets molested in daylight. Old ladies cannot rely on bystanders for help when they get robbed. Everyone learns to mind his own business. Even the newspapers cry out: "What happened to the spirit of the Chinese people?''

Riding on a crowded bus one day, I saw two women fighting. They were pulling each other's hair and cursing. No one tried to stop them. People seem to be numbed by the violence on TV, and the fierce fighting of those two women was almost as exciting as the TV shows at home. The rising crime rate has become a real social problem in today's China.

Bus drivers and Students

Given all the talk of improved living standards in Beijing, I was surprised to find so many people who are unhappy with their lives. Living, it seems, is not hard but rather irritating. They have to quarrel with grumpy salespeople in state run stores when they go and buy even the simplest items. They have to fight crowds to get on buses to go to work every day.

The bus drivers are not happy about their jobs either. They make no secret of that. To keep the drivers from striking, the city government gave them a raise a few years back, and adds an incremental raise every now and then. Since a driver can make a lot more money somewhere else -driving a taxi for example- the bus company cannot find any replacements. The present drivers have to work six days a week. To preserve the work force, the drivers are prevented from transferring to other jobs. One bus driver told me that the city government threatens to fine any state run enterprises that hire them.

Under such pressure, the drivers then take out their grievances on the passengers. They will not stop the bus if too many people are waiting. They close the door before people have a chance to get on. Some even tease the passengers who have waited patiently for long periods in designated lines in bus terminals by picking up the crowd that is not in fine. The workers that take buses to work vent their grievance in turn by slowing down on their job.

One day, after waiting at a bus stop for over an hour, frustrated by four or five buses that passed without stopping, would be passengers began commenting about the bus drivers. "The problem is that the drivers are not happy with their jobs, and they are taking it out on us," said one worker to another. "Of course they are not! But they are not the only ones," said the other. "Look at the students, they're always stirring up trouble. But the problem with the students is that they care only about their own fate," he continued. "If they raised slogans that concerned the workers in the city, high inflation for instance, the students would have much more influence and following.'' Another thought about it a little and said: ''Don't worry, there will be someone to rise to the top and clean up this mess in China. Mao did before. Someone will after Deng." The first one said then: "As for now, as long as we can get by, we're not too concerned with either the students or the government.'' I was surprised to hear such open expression of discontent among the people.


Inflation has been the hot topic for the politicians in China. The cost of living has risen quite high in the last few years. Many items have risen more than ten times in price. The real inflation rate was two to three times as high as claimed by the government, many in Beijing would say. Once I was talking to a few managers about this. When I said that the living standard had risen in the last few years, especially since I left China, they all ganged up on me. They saw inflation wiping out all the improvements of the last few years.

One manager, who worked in a wool factory, told me how he had been chasing the same wool blanket all his life. During the fifties and sixties, it cost eighty odd yuan while his wage was only a little over seventy yuan. Now that his wage is a little over 200 yuan, the same wool blanket cost over 250 yuan. (The official exchange rate is $1 = 3.71 yuan but the free market rate is more like $1 = 7 yuan.) In all these years he had never been able to buy the blanket with one month's wage.

Another manager told me how the price of fish had gone up more than ten times. Given this situation, another price hike might bring people to Tiananmen Square. The fact that the general population had not experienced inflation for almost thirty years made the current rapid rise in prices harder to adjust to.

On what basis did the government in China set prices? With sarcasm, people in Beijing believe that it did it by gauging the reaction from the people. If there are not many complaints from the people after a price hike, then the price hike was too mild. If everyone complained about the price, and stopped buying, then it was set too high. If people kept on buying while they were complaining, then the price was set just right.

After advocating a free market economy for many years, the government is now forced to resort to rationing again. Besides food, other industrial goods are faced with rationing imported cars, TVs and refrigerators, for instance. A few years back, Hu, the general secretary of the CPC, was advocating growth through consumerism. Now the pressure is unbearable on consumer durables. To discourage consumption of those luxury goods, prices for them have been raised quite a bit. The strategy is not working, however. The people who buy these luxury goods usually don't have to take the money out of their own pockets. The luxury goods are often given to Party or government officials as gifts in return for some favor. It is the public money they are spending. High prices will not stop it.

In addition to price hikes, interest rates have increased. This is to attract savings. With high inflation, however, people prefer to buy now rather than save for later. Because of this, the financial press in China is really worried that the huge savings fund among the population might just be dumped on to the market in panic buying of luxury goods, forcing lip inflation even more. The gap between total savings and total goods on the market is too big to manage. (They found out later, though, that the alarmingly large savings fund was not all from individual depositors. A large share of the deposits were made by enterprises under individual names to evade state regulations.) For the first time since the revolution, there have been reports of runs on banks.

Agricultural Reform and Rationing

Agriculture has been one of the hardest hit sectors under the current inflation. Rising prices made agriculture one of the least profitable industries. The government doesn't dare raise agricultural prices any more. With each round of price hikes for agricultural products, it takes less and less time for inflation to come back and wipe out the intended incentive for farmers.

It looks like a struggle between city and countryside, and the city is winning the battle. While industrial prices are going up and up, government controlled prices for agricultural goods cannot keep pace. Peasants are disorganized after decollectivization. They do not have the kind of influence that city dwellers have in modifying government policies.

Peasants might lose the battle over prices, but it is the cities that will lose the war if agriculture in China collapses. It is widely believed inside the Party that grain production figures have been exaggerated by over 20% in the last few years. Shortages of food stuffs have sometimes pushed the free market price of grain twice as high as the official price. Pork supplies have almost disappeared. Eggs are hard to come by. Most cities have resorted to rationing again. While I was in Beijing, residents were allowed to buy only one kg of meat and 2.5kg of eggs from state subsidized stores. If anyone wants to eat more meat, he or she has to pay a much higher price in the free market and sometimes risks food poisoning.

Under the circumstances, officials have all but stopped bragging about the great success of the reform in agriculture. Instead, the press began to publish shocking statistics about the low level of capital invest¬ment in the agricultural infrastructure in recent years. The country as a whole spent more money for imported cars in the last few years than it did for agricultural improvements. The low level of capital investment in agriculture was seen as the source of the problem on the farm front. The government's solution was to privatize land use rights.

Officials seemed to think that once peasants could own the land use rights, they would have an incentive to invest in land improvement. They had apparently learned little from the history of more than a thousand years of private farming in China. Why should the peasants invest in land improvements when ultimately they do not own it? The current setup is like a cross between sharecropping and tenant farming. At a time when agriculture was becoming increasingly non¬profitable, the breaking up of the collectives made the situation worse. Unlike the collective farming experience, peasants on their own are too weak to invest in agriculture. The burden of investment in agriculture production has fallen on the shoulder of the government. However, the country as a whole is either too poor or not willing to make agriculture a more profitable pursuit.

With all the rosy reporting of agricultural production a few years back, the government thought that China was ready for higher protein levels in the people's diet. Many animal feed factories were set up based on the belief that there was a surplus of feed grains. All of a sudden, the surplus grain stored during the collective period was used up. The resulting shortage caused a drastic rise in the free market price of corn. Facing such price rises, many animal feed factories in the countryside went bankrupt, and had to close. The egg farmers faced a choice of either selling their eggs on the free market and buying expensive grain from the free market, or signing a contract with the state for a guaranteed price for eggs and a subsidized price for grain. The grain shortage has finally forced the government to reintroduce egg and meat rationing. Beijing was one of the last cities to begin rationing again. The city government waited until after the Party's congress adjourned to announce the rationing.

Corruption of the cops

Despite the high inflation in China, the living standard of the people has noticeably changed, especially for the urban and suburban populations. Color TVs, hi fis, washing machines, refrigerators arid a host of other consumer electronic and durable goods are available and can be see readily in most people's houses in Beijing. But the lives of the majority of the people have not improved as fast as the rapid rise in new buildings seems to indicate. While the high rises were popping up in Beijing, so have crimes in the street and corruption in government. Pollution and congestion can be understood as the growth pains of China striving to industrialize, but the epidemic of corruption is hard to justify.

It was frightening to see that even the cops are corrupt. One should not be too hard on the police officers, however. The old criminal elements are making a mint under the new policy. Those people know what it is like in the prisons, and figure it is worth the risk. They bribe a whole network of cadres and make a killing in their business dealings. They make the police officers mad. Many such criminals had been locked up before, and now they are the newly rich of China. The policemen found that the system rewards crooks and felt it to be truly unfair. They also face double digit inflation on a fixed salary. Since the party advocated letting a few get rich first, wily shouldn't they be among the rich few?

The police take revenge by issuing fines at random against the small peddlers on the street. They know these new entrepreneurs have money, especially the private truck drivers. They often stop these trucks for speeding and pocket the tine. They will also pocket fines levied on other "traffic violators." If the violator wants a receipt, then his fine will be doubled.

The cops have countless other ways to increase their monthly bonus. Since the accident and death rate are both high in Beijing, the police are given great latitude in their efforts to curb traffic violations. All drivers in Beijing are given four traffic violation allowance coupons a year. It is like a point system. If one loses them all, one loses his job as a driver of any motor vehicle. It is incredible to see a grown man acting like a sheep in front of a cop. Many drivers stock American brand cigarettes, expensive liquor, or stuffed envelopes to give to the cops if they ever get caught in a traffic violation. This bribery can sometimes be quite open. But more often, the cop will not say clearly what he wants from the driver. lie will turn to a ''volunteer'' another driver maybe, to "interpret" his need. If the alleged violator understands his message, he may simply receive a verbal warning.

Many private haulers, in turn, have learned to avoid hassles with the cops by renting army trucks for their trips. It is a great deal for both sides: extra income for the army unit to spend without supervision, and no insurance maintenance, or fines to pay for the haulers. So far, the cops are not ready to pick on the army.

Privatizing Housing

Corruption in the police force is peanuts compared with what government officials can do. It was amazing to see how much discontent among the general population is generated by official corruption. The polarization of Chinese society has begun to take shape. The contrast between the haves and the have nots is as striking as the contrast between the old Beijing and the new. People who have connections to people with influence live in modern high rises, while others are still crammed in old shacks.

The people in power give their children first preference in housing and reserve houses for their grand children, some of whom are not even born. There was a cartoon in the paper depicting an old man standing on a street corner in the night, pointing to a high rise in order to show his small grandson which apartment among the unlit apartments he had gotten for him. Housing inequalities have became a major point of contention, and a main source of friction between urban residents.

The housing policy in the past was for the government to provide low rent housing for all city residents. (Nearly 100% of the houses that were built since the fifties were built by the state.) The symbolic rent was so low that it often didn't even cover the maintenance cost.

In the last two decades, the government poured a lot of money into new high rises to relieve the chronic housing shortage. But the more they built, the worse the shortage. The new houses often do not go to the truly needy families. There are still cases of three generations living in one room. Instead, the new houses mostly go to the people in positions of power, either in factories, or in the government. There is a pecking order in housing distribution. The highest ranked get the first pick, then their children, friends, arid relatives. By the time the truly needy take their turn, there is little left. The housing subsidies subsidize the affluent, not the truly needy.

The uneven distribution of housing has caused great resentment and outcry among city residents. [he solution that the government has finally drawn up is for every one to buy their own house. Reform advocates in the government tell the people that once the officials in power have to pay for the extra housing they occupy, they will not want so much housing space.

The housing reform stipulated an average living space per capita in each city, and an average housing price for that per capita living space. Based on this calculation, each wage earner should get extra wages to pay for the true cost of their housing. The idea is to change the hidden subsidy to an open subsidy, and, in so doing, create a housing market.

The housing reform is a typical example of Deng's solution to a social or political problem. Instead of facing the corruption in housing head on, he turns to privatization for solution. As can be seen throughout the world, privatization of houses doesn't solve the inequality in housing; it exacerbates it.

No sooner did the central government issue the new policy concerning housing reform, than the people in power figured a way to get around it. There was a report in the paper about a manager of a state run factory who, in the name of housing reform, bought his house from his factory for only 10% of the cost. There was another mayor of a mid size town who claimed his living quarters were part of his office space, so he made the local government pay for it. What these incidents indicate is that people in power can give themselves ample free living space with or without housing reform. Self policing simply does not work.

Socialist Job Markets?

Deng's reform of a planned economy into a market economy inevitably leads to the creation of a labor market. Capitalism can't function without a job market, but what does it mean for a country that is supposedly socialist to have a job market?

Before the reform, there was hardly any labor mobility. One was either working in a state run enterprise with life long job security, or working in one's own village collective farm with no income security. It was extremely difficult to transfer one's job from one place to another. Now that the state no longer assigns jobs for students graduating from high schools or colleges, and factories have a greater freedom to hire or fire whomever they want, a labor market has emerged. Technicians dissatisfied with their d)s begin to look around; peasants who find their income too loss' working the land look for work in the cities.

The small rural industries around Beijing lack skilled workers arid technicians and are eager to attract them. Sometimes they get taken for a ride by some quacks. But more often, they hire retired workers from state run in¬dustries that are similar to theirs and give these retirees jobs as advisers. These retirees can more than double their income this way.

Once in a while a technician may come to the small rural industry for a chance to improve his life. lie Usually doesn't come empty handed. One that I know of came with an idea for making an electronic scale. He tried to convince a small village industry to invest in his product. Had the deal gone through, he would have been able to make much more money than he was making as a technician in a state run factory.

A technician or a retired skilled worker may have some bargaining power in a new job, but the peasants that come to Beijing with only muscle power to sell have to wait in a labor market to be hired. These markets are often simply gatherings of unemployed people in a highway intersection. The market that I often passed had fifty or so people every day. Their age ranged from the late twenties to the early fifties. Most of them were from Henan province. One of them claimed that this was really a slave market. His words offended a few others there. But most people didn't give a damn if a 'stranger" heard this. They told me that there were quite a few similar labor markets in and around the city.

People from all over the country come and seek better jobs in the big cities, for it is the cities that are being developed under Deng. They told me that they were looking for only room and board plus six yuan a day for their labor. They were mostly unskilled laborers working on construction jobs.

It is very common these clays for a construction firm to sign a contract for a job. Then they turn around and subcontract the work to a peasant team. Sometimes these peasant teams in turn subcontract some of their work as well. By the time these day laborers get hired, the job has been subcontracted many times.

A prospective employer generally walks through the crowd there and seeks out the natural leaders among the laborers. He will ask for "help." He will often say that he's willing to pay anyone a fair wage which was not too high and not too low. After some bargaining back and forth, it will often turn out that he is only willing to pay five yuan a day with no room and board.

These men are often private businessmen. They can't get any local people for so little money so they look for cheap labor from this kind of labor pool. Given the increasingly higher cost of living in cities like Beijing, one needs two to three yuan a day just for food. These day laborers are not interested in just surviving; they have their families to feed at home.

The hiring method reminded me of the old shape up system for dock workers in the U.S. There is a high turn over rate on the market. Peasants come here for a few days, looking for the highest paid jobs. But as time passes by, they get hungrier, and their demands get lower. Finally they take a less than ideal offer and get to work.

Emerging Entrepreneurial Class

Labor mobility means different things for different people. This is true in all societies with labor markets. The people who benefit the most under Deng's reform are not the peasants who come to Beijing to work on some construction projects, the technicians who can hunt for a better job, or the retired skilled workers. They are not even the cops. The true beneficiaries are the party and government officials turned entrepreneurs. Many of them are former leading party cadres. They have the most connections in the government.

For instance, a brother of a government official that I know decided to get into business for himself. He took leave from his government post, and got a loan from the bank (through some connections, of course). He got 40,000 yuan from the bank, borrowed 8,000 yuan from friends, and then issued stock to make up the other 12,000 yuan. He then started his own shop. He hires workers to make aluminum instruments for the educational market. He pays his workers fifty yuan a month when there is no work and then piece work when they are busy.

To get the work orders and the raw materials for his factory, he has to wine and dine a lot of people. Since his is a private business, he can spend whatever he wants and follows no accounting rules. He makes 20,000 yuan a year clear, he says. With that kind of income, he can afford to bribe. He keeps his state job open by paying his old office forty yuan a month. In case the policy ever changes or he can no longer run his business, he will still have a place to go.

For most of the managers in the present state run enterprises, however, striking out on their own is not the only way to enrich themselves under the new policy. The current reform in industry provides them with an alternative opportunity. After the central government broke up collective ownership in the countryside, it began to do the same in the cities. The plan is to franchise out the state owned industries to their managers. If they manage them well, their income could increase substan¬tially.

The government is doing this because it believes the problems in the economy are caused by non¬caring managers. If managers are given a stake in their enterprise, the government hopes, they might run it with all the vigor of an entrepreneur. To achieve this, the leadership sees the development of a managerial class in China as a must. According to the reformers, the rights and privileges of these people must be protected, or else the whole economy suffers. They must be allowed to get rich first. As the economy develops, everyone will gain. This is Deng's version of "trickle down" theory.

Economic Reform in the Factories

One problem with the trickle down strategy of the reforms, however, is that the workers in China are not used to seeing their managers making money like a capitalist. The government has to build support and understanding among the population for the high income of the managerial class.

One example of this was a debate in the press over a manager's pay. Under a flawed contract, the manager of a factory in the Northeast got a 45,000 yuan bonus. Should he take it? Apparently there was great dissatisfaction among the workers over the manager getting that much money¬twenty times what they would get in a year. Thousands of letters poured in to join the debate. The paper selected many views in support of the high pay and some that showed anger. But regardless of what people said, the manager got his bonus in full at the end. To pacify the workers, he promised to donate 5,000 yuan to a welfare foundation.

The commentary in the press was not concerned that this might violate the socialist principle of "to each according to his work''- which the commentators think should be changed to "to each according to his contribution'' -but that the people's tolerance for this kind of income gap was still too low in China. People are still too much influenced by the egalitarian idealism of the past, and the government fears that this kind of income gap might bring social unrest. This is why some call Deng a pragmatist. He subscribes to the dichotomy posed by Western economists and political theoreticians: to have efficiency, one must compromise equality and fairness, and vice versa. One editorial claimed that China needed both, because without fairness, there will not be social tranquility, and without efficiency, there will not be development. So, the main challenge for the reform is to achieve "efficiency" without angering the masses.

The reform in industry began by instituting a two track pricing system: one set by the state, and one by the market. All the production that was under the state plan was supposed to get its raw material and its finished goods at the state set prices. Any product that was produced outside the plan could be sold at the market price. Since state prices do not keep pace with the rise in inflation, market prices are often much higher than the state set prices. Thus, there is a great incentive for these industries to get their raw materials (e.g., steel and coal) at state set prices and sell their products at market price.

Now rural industries were not a part of the state planning mechanism, so they do not normally get their materials at the state set prices, unless, of course, the sales officer of the material manufacturer is open to bribery. Because the state set quota was supposed to decrease every year so as to gradually transform China to a market economy, those factories producing low¬priced materials in short supply can choose their buyers. This is again a slippery road to corruption.

Moral reasons aside, corruption causes inefficiency in the economy. Besides the waste in gifts and bribes, the most efficient enterprises are not necessarily the ones doing the work. A guy who worked in a brick kiln told me that they often sell their best bricks to the collective transport team, while the defective ones are bought up by the private haulers. But it often happens that the private hauler's bricks are accepted in state financed construction sites, rather than those from the collective. The reason given by the receivers on the sites is that the private hauler has the better quality bricks. Obviously something fishy is going on.

Many of the small industries in the suburbs of Beijing have learned to prosper by having good personal ties to the managers of larger factories that either supply them with the raw materials they need, or buy their finished product. Since the accounting regulations restrict the state run factories from using luxury hotels for meetings, or spending money wining and dining their guests, the other industries help them get around this. They provide meeting places in luxury hotels for them. They also get the best cigarettes and liquor for the managers of the state run industries. These good well gestures are worth a lot; most industries which are not state run rely on them to survive. Someone even called this ''the life line of rural industry'' during the National People's Congress and was attacked for saying it.

One small chemical factory in particular spent thou¬sands of yuan to sponsor a quality control meeting for one of its key suppliers in Beijing. In return, this supplier gave the factory a few tons of a valuable chemical each month for many months. Although the distribution of this chronically short product was strictly controlled by the central government, the factory that produced it could easily spare a few tons as "defective" or "left over material.'' Since the chemical was in great demand, the small chemical factory resold it for more than twice what they had paid. This one deal made more profit for them than all the hard work of the last few years.

Awarding state financed construction contracts can also provide a great opportunity for individual enrichment. The bureaucrats involved are offered houses of their own imported color TVs, or simply under the table cash, not counting endless other small goodies thrown in during each stage of the contract negotiations. Needless to say, whoever provides the best deal for the person in charge of the Construction project gets the contract.

Shortages bleed corruption under the new policy. When the shortage is widespread, so is corruption. Even the control of electric supply becomes a source of corruption. Electricity is probably one of the scarcest commodities in Beijing. Most people there are used to living without electricity three to four clays a week. Factories have rotating days without electricity. With the rapid development of small industries in the countryside, securing electricity becomes a main concern. Most are forced to buy expensive generators. One cannot afford to be on the wrong side of the power company.

The shortage of electricity becomes another avenue for self enrichment. One day a man from the power company came and told a very profitable factory in the suburb of Beijing that they had to change their trains former and install a new service line. It would be very costly. After enjoying a nice dinner and a few bags of top quality rice, he left them alone. But to secure a priority in electric supply to the whole northern suburb of Beijing, the farmers there had to guarantee in return a supply of fish and eggs at below market price to the power company.

Leading in Modernization

Given the degree of corrupt behavior that is necessary to run any enterprise in today's China, the least restricted in spending money is the most likely winner in a competition. State run enterprises cannot compete with small rural industries because of the accounting regulations. In turn, the small collective run enterprise cannot compete with private business because of the greater freedom the latter has in bribing.

State run woolen mills, for example, with their highly advanced machinery cannot get enough wool to run even a single shift in many cities. On the other hand, many small woolen mills in the countryside are running full steam with their primitive machines. The reason is partly due to the ability of these small collective or private mills to secure a supply of wool by bribing the officials in the sheep growing regions.

Private truckers are another example of people who can make out like bandits, and not all from hard work. One might make a deal with the record keeper of a construction site, for example, to split the profit between the two. The record keeper will then record a seven ton shipment when in fact it was only five. Sometimes the driver will unload only partially, then he'll get out and turn around and get credit for a second load. A four ton truck can make as much money as a ten ton truck on one trip this way. Most people in state owned industries don't give much thought to whether these things are right, and the private entrepreneurs can really take advantage.

The more the state tries to stop the corruption, the bigger it gets. People say that for every policy the government sets against corruption, there is a counter strategy among the bureaucrats. The same is true for the people. They have learned to circumvent governmental policies, too. The whole country is turning into a commodity oriented society. It certainly feels like everything has a price, and everybody is looking for a chance to make a fast buck.

The Chinese official class leads in ''modernization." From the central government on clown, officials from every level are looking for the most modern and the most expensive imported cars or TV's. The lower levels follow their leaders. If the high officials upgrade their guest houses and cars, then the lower levels will follow suit. Sometimes they might even move a step or so ahead. No high officials ride in Chinese made cars any more. Only imported luxury cars suit their taste. To prevent every government official from riding in a Mercedes Benz, the central government had to issue regulations that stipulated which rank of official could ride in which class of luxury car.

The forces of corruption take advantage of the transi¬tional period in China during which the old socialist planned economy is being broken down and the new commodity market relation has yet to be totally established. Because of this, corruption takes a somewhat different form than it does in a capitalist society. For example, one needs no permission to live in big cities in the U.S.; all one needs is money. Shortage here does not breed corruption necessarily; it brings higher prices. In China, the prices are mostly set by the state. They are not responsive to the changes in supply or demand. Despite this, in real terms shortages still bring higher prices in China. The difference is that it takes the form of bribery to someone in charge. The official prices might be low, but they are often meaningless. There are often no goods to back them up.

Corruption Basic to the Reforms

Most people would condemn the act of bribing someone in order to get a commodity that is in short supply at state set prices. On the other hand, paying higher than state set prices for the same commodity on a free market is considered a legitimate transaction. Because of this difference in perception, some believe that the quickest way to eliminate corruption is to privatize the whole economy. As an old revolutionary said to me once, this is as effective as declaring all thievery legal in order to reduce the crime rate. The real problem, it seems, is not corruption per se, but the system and ideology that lead to corrupt behavior. Privatization only le¬gitimizes what used to be considered a crime. Moreover, privatization obviously will not stop corruption.

Since most Chinese managers and government officials can't make the kind of money their counterparts make in the West, they compensate by having countless fringe benefits tied to their jobs. They wine and dine each other and build personal ties at the public's expense. They find every excuse to travel or to hold meetings or conferences in the best hotels. Given the fact that food costs over half of most people's household budgets and housing is in chronic short supply, these benefits represent a true luxury in China.

More to the point, the real reason corruption in China takes the form it takes is that while the ideology of the officials in China have changed from serving the people to an ideology of self-¬aggrandizement, the economy has not changed totally to one regulated by the market. In China, the economy is still mainly controlled by the government. It is thus an open field for corruption, for it is the only "rational" response of a profit minded person in a non market economy. Corruption is as intrinsic to Deng's economic policy as profit is to capitalism.

Of all the changes in China that I have found, this is probably the most striking one, and the most unsettling. It is a basic thread running through the problems of the reforms which I have tried to present here and focuses serious questions for socialists to grapple with today.

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June 11, 2009

Hummer To Meet A Marxist Doom?

I’m still absorbing the news that the Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company Ltd, one of the giant industrial corporations that characterize present-day Chinese “socialism,” has purchased the Hummer brand from General Motors as the latter shuffles down the path blazed long ago by Studebaker and American Motors.

The Hummer is of course the vehicle sensible people love to hate: ugly, heavy, dangerous, gas-guzzling, polluting, military (in roughly the same sense as camouflage footsie pajamas) and a big fat macho fraud—-the damn thing is built on a regular GM SUV chassis, just like a plain old Chevy Colorado.

The psychological makeup of Hummer purchasers has been looked into more deeply, most succinctly by Ruben Bolling, the crackerjack creator of the Tom the Dancing Bug comic.

Click image for full-size view.

I, however, have an even more theoretical speculation on the fate of the Hummer, based on the old Marxist precept that changes in people’s consciousness tend to trail changes in material conditions. Let me draw first a brief analogy—when I spent a little time in West Africa in the early ‘80s, I met a couple of young guys, Komi and Kasimir, who were adherents of voudon (a/k/a voodoo). We talked about the belief system and they turned out to be followers of a particular fetiche or deity, which forbade them to eat anything cooked in a metal vessel or with metal utensils.

Kasimir and Komi told me of one the most dreaded of the voudon cults, whose fetiche was connected with smallpox, Its adherents would paint their faces white on sacred occasions and were feared for their ability to call disease down on enemies. Now this was only a decade since scientists and medical personnel had finally eradicated the disease in its last strongholds in Africa, so I asked if this group was still as feared as it had used to be. They both thought and said no, actually it was not as powerful and its fetiche not seen to be as deadly. Changes in consciousness trail changes in material conditions!

Back to the Hummer. The military’s HumVee was a star of the last substantial victory for the US military, Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 Gulf War. The Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the US felt uncontrollable lust and a civilian version was soon forthcoming, and became a GM product by 1998.

9/11-fueled war fever sent sales soaring even higher--for a while. But by early 2004 they were declining precipitously. I rather doubt that it was due to sudden environmental concerns among its target audience. I think what happened is that fairly early in the occupation of Iraq, it became clear that this mighty war wagon could be taken out by a couple of Baghdad teenagers with a big artillery round and a garage door opener. Whether people thought about it consciously or not, IEDs had taken the bloom off the rose.

I don’t know what Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company management is thinking. I can’t see a big Hummer comeback in the US and the contribution they’d make to China’s already horrific pollution boggles the mind. Indications are they plan to market these vehicular plug-uglies more heavily in developing nation markets. I can only say I hope they take a richly deserved bath on this venture.

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Revolutionary Rock In Germany

I was going to say my old friend Mike Stout is still rocking out, but that "still" does him a disservice. He's rocking harder than ever. This clip, embedded to start rectifying a recent, and uncharacteristic, dearth of music here at FotM, was recorded late last month at a big-ass festival of progressive and revolutionary German youth in the working class Ruhr Valley.

Mike has quite a following in Germany, Most years he does a stint there where he plays at big public events like this one, as well as progressive clubs, bars, demonstrations and picket lines, even on the street. His music is well enough known that, like Chuck Berry, he doesn't need to bring a band. Some locals, like this combo from Gelsenkirchen, can always be assembled for the gig.

Like it? There's more at YouTube. Or check his MySpace page here.

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June 5, 2009

Tiananmen 1989: Living In People's City

[Because of the continuing--and heartening--interest in the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, Fire on the Mountain is reprinting another contemporary piece from the September 1989 issue of Forward Motion magazine in which the article on the implications of the massacre by Dennis O'Neil posted here yesterday appeared. This is a short one, a first-hand report by a member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization who had lived in China for several years, working as a polisher at the government's Foreign Languages Press. Her name was not included in the original report, which she made at considerable risk via telephone as the brutal clampdown held Beijing in its grip. Dell Bisdorf has since died of brain cancer, a revolutionary to her death and one whose valuable insights helped FRSO take a determined stand condemning the massacre.]

"Living in People's City"

Shortly after the June 4 crack down in Beijing, we were able to gain a phone interview with a North American women, long time political activist, and friend of FM now living and working in Beijing. Her first hand observations confirm the mass character of the student initiated struggle and the severity of the repression which followed.

Does everyone know that this democracy movement was not anti party and not anti socialist? It was like living in People's City, like the Paris Commune. There was a big demonstration in front of the telegraph office when the tanks rolled in. When someone said, "Tanks are coming," the demonstrators linked arms and sang the lnternationale. Then a particularly hideous kind of tear gas, something worse than tear gas, was thrown at them.The political situation is still a bit unsure: will Deng and Li Peng remain in power? That is not absolutely certain. There are food shortages and it is hard to get around. There is no mail in or out right now. Rumors fly around like Deng is dead, or Deng is on a respirator. Then he appeared on TV, praising the troops.

Many noticed that at each great stage, the government blew it [by not taking advantage of its freedom to absorb the just demands of the demonstrators]. Those nasty old men are really withdrawn from reality. I don't know who is feeding them their information, but whoever those people are, they are lying. The government tried to organize counter demonstrations. Workers were approached, for example at the Capital Iron and Steel works. They were offered 500 yuan a day to participate in a counter demonstration, and they said "no way." All sections of the people here were involved in supporting the demonstrators. The government succeeded in organizing only tiny suburban farmers counter-demos, really pathetic people who didn't know what was going on.

We heard that some people from CCTV English language news were taken out and shot and that two people from Beijing Review were arrested.

I want you to tell people that Saturday night, a hot night, the tanks rolled in and shot at random, shot wildly at ordinary people. Ordinary people were killed--bystanders, old, young, children, bike riders. In the Square, some students were negotiated with, but others were shot outright. There were some negotiations, and then they started shooting again. After curfews were established, some shooting continued. We have witnessed bizarre troop movements. Hundreds of thousands of troops ring Beijing. We here are doubtful about any so-called independent minded armies; we think that is wishful thinking, and a civil war is unlikely.

People are not anti party, even after the shooting, because the army moved without any authorization by the Party. Only a few mad old dogs approved this. They didn't go through Party channels before sending in the troops. There was no approval by the Standing Committee of the Politburo, or the Politburo, let alone the Central Committee. They didn't even meet.

The students have not issued demands about the reforms beyond the call to end corruption. Only a few intellectuals connect the rise in corruption with the reforms creating more markets and individual economic enterprise. The students talk only about political questions democracy, an independent student union.

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June 4, 2009

The Implications Of Tienanmen

[Today marks 20 years since the start of the Tiananmen Massacre. Because there was a lot of interest in the Freedom Road Socialist Organization's June 10, 1989 statement--posted here yesterday--here is a deeper analysis of Tienanmen done a few months later. It was published in Forward Motion magazine in September, 1989. The introduction says, in part:

The O'Neil article has circulated among Freedom Road leadership and generally reflects its thinking, although the article itself remains the responsibility of the author.
If there is interest, further Tienanmen material may be posted here in the next few days.]

After Tiananmen: Time To Face Big Questions

by Dennis O’Neil

The events in China take place in the context of the ongoing international crisis of socialism. They represent a major historical milestone in the development of the crisis. China has had and retained the interest and respect of Third World and Western Leftists far beyond circles with roots in various Maoist parties and organizations of the '70s. The reason for this is neither simple nostalgia nor enthusiastic support for the economic reforms promulgated by Deng. It is because people perceived a special relationship between the masses of the Chinese people and political life, the Party and the State, a relationship which embodied something promising, something socialist. The massacre has called all this into question.

The issues the Chinese turmoil raises about socialism are dealt with extensively later in this paper, but there are three basic areas it is helpful to keep in mind throughout.

First, how do the masses of working people learn to become true masters of society? If it is not in the course of active debate over every major issue of economic and political life, where is it? It is one thing that foreign observers did not know what the issues were in the innerparty struggles, who was on which side and how the struggle was going. It is another when the vast majority of the Chinese people and rank and file Party members were in the dark, literally until the shooting was over.Second, what should be the character of democracy in political life under socialism? In particular, how adequate is the single party state to move economic and social development forward toward classless society? The fact is that ties with the military or sections of it have been a or the decisive factor in at least five inner party struggles in the People's Republic of China since 1965: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) vs. the "February Adverse Current," the Wuhan Mutiny and then the ultra left in September '67; the fall of Lin Biao; the Tiananmen Incident of 1976; and the fall of the Gang of Four. If this is the best socialists in power can come up with to resolve seemingly irreconcilable differences of line and policy, we're in trouble.

Third, what are the effects on socialist ideology, politics and daily life of giving the market a very large role in the economy? On a more particular level, the relationship between the economic base and the political structure deserves a lot of attention. The "fit" between the centrally planned and directed economy and the centralized Party/State political machinery seems to break down when much economic activity is conducted outside the plan and creates forces and strata which aren't represented in the Party/State structure.

The significance of the recent events in China as a major conjuncture in the crisis of socialism is intensified by simultaneous developments in the Soviet bloc. The continuing evolution of the glasnost and perestroika policies in the USSR have given rise to a complex of new phenomena--more open elections, televised debate at the Supreme Soviet meeting, nationalist rebellions and pogroms, and now, open labor struggles. In Poland, the ruling Polish United Socialist Party was dealt a humiliating shellacking by Solidarnosc in national elections, but open elections have been held and respected. These developments are fascinating, and while we aren't about to uphold them as models for the future, we are going to have to do some investigation and evaluation and probably some rethinking of the positions many of us inherited from the new communist movement of the '70s.

Going From the Particular...

It is very important to study the particular developments in China over the last few months. Without doing so, we will not be able to get to the essence of what happened and draw deeper conclusions. Instead we'll be stuck with a simple minded line of "good students, bad commies" (or perhaps "misled students, good Deng").

To start with, we have to look at three main features of the crisis the student movement, the struggle within the CPC leadership, and the relationship between the mass movement and the inner Party clash. These were the main social forces active this spring leading up to the June events, with the struggles concentrated in Beijing and other urban centers. Of course, virtually all political conflict in China takes place against the backdrop of developments in the rural areas, and in this case, against the growing crisis of agriculture since the market reforms were introduced to that sector. Unfortunately, those issues are beyond the scope of this article and will have to be left to another time. [See the Hugh Dean/William Hinton exchange on the reforms, particularly regarding agriculture, in Monthly Review, March 1989--ed.]

The student movement spearheaded the broad democracy movement which erupted in China this spring, far stronger than it had been two years ago or in the late '70s. Now, higher education in China has been run very differently than it was in Mao's day. Only token efforts have been made to bring youth of worker and peasant backgrounds into the universities. Admission is formally based on intellectual merit as shown on standardized exams and is subject to "backdoorism" and other forms of corruption. As a result, the student body is disproportionately the children of relatively privileged strata party officials, intellectuals, those who have accumulated substantial wealth.

Some of the movement's initial core demands could be considered calls for the extension of student privilege--bigger dorm rooms, more academic supplies, better food--or for enhanced post school opportunity--the right to choose posts, better pay (especially in the face of the well¬publicized high incomes of some entrepreneurs). These demands were also part of a more general thrust for greater priority being placed on education, with more and better facilities and higher pay and more respect for teachers as a path to improving a seriously inadequate higher education system.

The student movement already had some skeletal organization. The current wave of student organization first made itself felt with last fall's racist demonstrations against African students in Nanjing and several other cities. During these incidents, which were quickly stopped, the students tried to raise general democratic slogans but drew no visible support from the masses or within the Party.

A major demand in the spring was that the government recognize an independent national student group. No such forms, independent of Party and State, have existed on this scale in China since liberation, so this represented a major challenge to the existing order. The effort to form an Independent Students Autonomous Union was backed by dissident intellectuals like Feng Lizhi and by some people within the Party.

Many students have a very positive view of Western bourgeois democracy. This stems from an overall political climate in which the West has been held up for emulation by the central government, exposure to bourgeois theorists like Mill and Dewey in class, and the fact that many tens of thousands of Chinese students have lived as students in the U.S. and other Western countries under conditions likely to create favorable sentiment.

Egalitarianism and Outrage

This is a bleak picture--the students are privileged, selfish, racist, anti-Party and in the thrall of Western bourgeois values.

And the reason it's so bleak is that it's absurdly onesided. All these elements existed in the student movement. Let's stipulate that. That doesn't mean they necessarily predominated or determined the movement's character. The students were also both patriots and internationalists. Having grown up in socialism, they had internalized many of its finest values. Like student movements in other times and places, they saw themselves as fighting to perfect a system which looked better on paper than in practice. Their egalitarianism and outrage at corruption demonstrated this. They displayed the rebelliousness of youth combined with a noteworthy willingness to sacrifice to advance the struggle. They developed their own internal discipline under difficult conditions and held to it well.

So let's look at what the students did. Realizing that their initial concerns were indeed narrow, they set out to build a broader united front by raising general slogans against corruption and for democracy.

Reform and Corruption

Corruption became such a central theme because it is a phenomenon which reflects many of the most important contradictions in China today. First, it's massive and pervades all of society. This is not just, "Oh, look what they caught James Watt doing with HUD." Corruption in China today is a daily fact of life. Second, it is in direct contradiction with the Maoist, and in fact socialist, ethic of selflessly and wholeheartedly serving the people. It is fueled by slogans and politics glorifying the rapid accumulation of wealth, so it raises in a most practical way the clash of very divergent ideological stands. Third, one of the main sources of corruption is the current status of the reforms.

In industry as well as agriculture, some goods are now designated by the state for sale at set prices, while production over or outside of these quotas can be sold at whatever price the market will bear. Anybody so positioned as to get hold of a lot of goods at the state set price can make a killing selling them off through private channels. And guess who has that access. Actually, the Chinese didn't even have to guess. Articles in the press there over the last year had identified by name 28 qian wan fu weng--"ten-millionaires." Twenty six were kids of top officials! Fourth, people are really enraged about it. An article in Socialist Review (89/2) mentions a study by a Chinese scholar who interviewed Cultural Revolution participants and "found that a majority said that they would again voluntarily engage in a Cultural Revolution-type mass uprising against corruption if the leadership mobilized them to do so."

The students' demands for democracy were not as clearly focused. Still, they reflected the common feeling that the government was not aware of or responsive to the needs and sentiments of the people. When an issue of democracy did become clear, as when hundreds of journalists marched demanding press freedom, the students quickly united with and took up this demand as their own.

Having raised these broad issues, the students assiduously pursued an astute united front strategy from the first days of the demonstration. Students mobilized themselves to go to the major factories in and around Beijing to explain what they were doing and to urge workers to come down to the Square to take part in the marathon free form discussions which were taking place there. They found broad support and interest from a huge section of Beijing's population. Just how broad became clear on May 20 when a million citizens clogged the city's streets to turn back the Army's first bid to dislodge the occupiers of Tiananmen.

In the Square itself, the students came to realize that they were affecting the future of China itself. They took this responsibility extremely seriously. Discussion and debate eddied through crowds in the Square as each person holding forth attracted a circle which shifted into new circles as listeners became speakers in turn. People debated the Party, socialism, democracy, market reforms, the West for hours. The crowds included workers, Party members, residents, vendors as well as students. Consensus was reached--the lnternationale became the students' theme song because its vision described the society to which people aspired. Consensus shifted--early demands which focused on corruption and the need for a dialog between the leadership and the student movement were joined by slogans calling for Li Peng's (and Deng's) fall as their unbending opposition became clearer. Overall, while the students' demands and program can be criticized as vague and sometimes contradictory, they retained a central thrust of demanding a greater role for the Chinese people in determining their own destiny.

With the police largely withdrawn and especially after the Army was kept out of the city by the masses, the students and their supporters took on the responsibility for directing traffic and more generally maintaining social order. This happened not only in Beijing, but also in Shanghai and other cities where the military and police held back or were held back by the authorities.

By the time of the massacre, the students saw themselves as--and had become --patriots fighting for the Chinese people's future. No one stands in the path of a column of tanks for less crowded dorm rooms. This doesn't make all their ideas right or even coherent, but it does mean they were no "tiny handful of counterrevolutionaries," hell bent on restoring capitalism. (The obligatory disclaimer: Are there counterrevolutionaries in China who want to smash socialism? Yup. Did they come to Tiananmen to make trouble? No doubt. Thugs and criminals, too? Sure, but so what? When there is massive social turmoil, there are always scum who will try to take advantage. To insist on purity in the ranks is to demand inaction.)

Chinese Party Politics Scorecard

It's My Party...

The background of the inner Party struggle lies in the economic reforms initiated by Deng after the fall of the Gang of Four and the removal of Hua Guofeng as Chairman. What Deng did was to shift the economy's emphasis from accumulation and investment to consumption, to greatly expand the role of the market and private enterprise and investment in the economy at the expense of central planning and state ownership (Business Week estimates that only 56% of China's industrial production still comes from the state sector), and to promote foreign investment and integration into the capitalist dominated world economy.

The aim was to better living standards and break with economic stagnation. The new policy initiative succeeded on both fronts, and in doing so brought to the fore a whole new set of contradictions. These include runaway development, inflation, the loss of considerable infrastructure resources in the countryside, rampant corruption and rising economic inequalities among individuals, regions and classes.

The reforms, which were begun in the '70s but not consolidated into a consistent package until 1982, in effect created a new era in CPC politics. Serious disagreements over the pace and political implications of the reforms grew and for the last several years there have been three discernible groups in the Party leadership. All three groups had been attacked as bourgeois rightists and Party persons in power taking the capitalist road during the Cultural Revolution. None has put itself forward as advocating a return to the policies of the Mao era. In fact it is difficult to assign the labels left and right to these groupings, so this paper proposes to use the names, Reformers, Moderates and Old Guard outlined in the table above.

The divisions among these leadership groups have left the Central Committee and Politburo largely paralyzed for the last three years. Different provincial and local leaders have tended to align with one or another of these groups, but have also taken advantage of the paralysis to go their own routes. On a national scale, ideological campaigns (like the one to combat "spiritual pollution," i.e. Western bourgeois thinking) and efforts to control runaway phenomena in the economy (i.e., persistent capital overspending) have both proved ineffectual.

The Reformers were mainly handpicked protégés of Deng, on whom he relied to implement the economic reforms. In selecting them, Deng was frequently at odds with the Old Guard, whom he gradually forced out of formal positions of power. On the other hand, once in office, the Reformers seemed driven by the nature of the economic problems they confronted to take the reforms further in the direction of decentralization and market incentives than Deng and the Moderates originally intended.

For their part, the Old Guard tended to direct their fire mainly at the Reformers, though this may have been an indirect way of isolating Deng. In any event, the development of mass movements calling for democracy twice found sympathy among the Reformers and produced an alliance between Deng and the Old Guard. The first time was in '86 87 and resulted in the fall of Hu Yaobang, the expulsion from the Party of Feng Lizhi and other dissidents whose views ranged from "reform the party" to "urging a multi-party state," and the temporary shifting of democratic and/or bourgeois liberal stirrings into other arenas like the mass media. Nevertheless, the stalemate in the Party continued (even though Zhao is reported to have told Gorbachev that the Politburo had officially voted to allow Deng final say on any issue before it!).

The current showdown seems at the moment to have produced a more decisive defeat for the Reformers, and a very strong hand for the Old Guard in their alliance with the Moderates. In Deng's first public appearance after the crackdown, he was closely flanked by octogenarians like Chen Yun, Li Xiannian, Peng Zhen and Bo Yibo, whom he himself had forced or maneuvered off the Politburo and out of most positions of power during the 1980s.

The decision to repress the students in Tiananmen by force of arms itself gave rise to sharp splits in the Party. This could be seen most clearly in the letter signed by over 100 retired top level commanders, including former army Chief of Staff Yang Dezhi and former Defense Minister Zhang Aiping, which strongly opposed the use of troops against the demonstrators. The refusal of current Defense Minister Qin Jiwei, who appears to have been dumped, to endorse the use of force and the decision to rely primarily on the 27th Army which had been stationed far from the turmoil in the boonies of Inner Mongolia are further evidence of widespread sentiment in the military that the crackdown was a shocking violation of the historically deep ties between the PLA and the people.

Similarly, as many as twenty of twenty nine provincial Party committees had still not come out in support of the crackdown five days after the attack. Few were willing to follow the repressive example of the central authorities, even though massive protests which included blocking railroads and highways took place in the week following the crackdown in dozens of localities, among them Shanghai, Xian and Wuhan.

Deepening our understanding of the inner-Party struggle and of the student movement isn't enough. We have to look at and think about the relationship between these two phenomena. Simplistic views which make the student movement either a creation, a cat's paw, of a group within the Party leadership or an entirely spontaneous mass upsurge with minimal connection to the inner Party divisions just won't do.

Who's Zooming Who?

To underline the obvious, the inner Party struggle and the democracy movement are both products of the same developments in recent Chinese history:

• The experience of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution with its attendant disorder;

• The failure of socialism to solve major problems of economic development and social stability;

• The reforms which reversed overall economic policy and created new contradictions;

• Unclarity about the nature of socialism, strategies for building it, the place of democratic institutions and the rule of law, and the role of the Party.

These common roots could be seen in the battle of language and of symbols. Both the students and the Deng/Li Peng group defined themselves first as Chinese patriots with Deng arguing that only under conditions of stability and complete national unity can China develop itself. The students won the semiotic battle hands down. They adopted Mao and the Statue of Liberty as their symbols, while the language of the inner Party clash was larded with discredited catch phrases from the Cultural Revolution.

The importance of the symbols can be seen in the students' occupation of Tiananmen. Not only is this square the spiritual heart of socialist China, but the universally known history of the 1976 Tiananmen incident resonates with three key meanings; First, the struggle is against dogmatists who defy the popular will. Second, the mass action of the people can create favorable conditions. And third, the question of political power is at stake. The students knew this when they chose Hu Yaobang's demise to restage the events around Zhou Enlai's funeral. Deng certainly knew it—he has acknowledged that he engineered the first Tiananmen incident.

From this common base of history and language, the stalemate and stasis in the Party provided the social space for the student movement to develop. (In Poland, by contrast, it had been in the crevices between the Church and Polish United Workers Party that first KOR and then Solidarnosc found the social space to take root.) The perceived political stagnation of the authorities impelled people to take up the big questions the Party wasn't addressing in public.

Within this framework, some Party leaders supported and encouraged the movement. Zhao Ziyang, for instance, characterized the students as patriotic and addressing real problems. As Lenin said, we have no sincere-o-meter. The Reformers may have been genuinely sympathetic to the student movement, they may have been seeking to use it to strengthen their own hand in the clash in the Party, or they may have felt the students' demands were in keeping with their own program.

It is clear that Zhao Ziyang was not initially regarded as a hero or leader of the students. In fact, his son Zhao Dajun is notorious for the kind of corrupt practices the movement targeted. (At a New York forum, a Chinese student described how during her stint in an appliance factory, young Zhao had strolled in and requisitioned several thousand units for himself.) Zhao's popularity grew in direct proportion to his statements of conditional support for the demonstration.

Whatever we know about the role of various Party figures within the mass movement is naturally subject to varying interpretations. For instance, it has been convincingly reported that students from the Party History Department at People's University in Beijing played a key role in pulling off the occupation of the Square. [See, for example, the May 25, 1989 New York Times interview with Colby professor Lee Feighon, just back from a month at People's University--ed.] It's likely that these kids, many of them offspring of high CP officials, were more aware of the terms of the inner-Party debate than most students, and consulted with Party leaders they respected. It is equally likely, though, that as the heirs in training to the Party machinery, they would be the most concerned about corruption in the Party and the erosion of its standing among the masses. It's hardly likely that they would take part en masse in a planned effort to destroy the Party they are being groomed to lead.

In the initial stages, the demonstrators' demands focused on corruption and calls for a dialog with government and Party leaders. This was not unprecedented: during the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Enlai and other leaders spent much of their time meeting and negotiating with delegations from regions, Red Guard factions, institutions, etc. This time the Party leaders saw themselves faced with a major contradiction: if they acknowledged that major problems existed which required a dialog, they also admitted the implication that the Party was distanced from the opinions and the actual interests of the masses of the people. It was when Li Peng and Deng decided against this course that demands for their ouster began to swell, making explicit what was only hinted at in the demand for dialog--an open challenge to the Party's authority. Still, for the most part, the challenge was only to certain Party leaders, and not to the existence or leading role of the Party itself.

A couple of further points also suggest strongly that spontaneity predominated in the Tiananmen demonstration. One is the huge outpouring of popular support for the students. Party cadre at certain workplaces may have mobilized people to turn out in support, but thousands of citizens turned out on their own. No suggestion has been made by the government that the million strong human blockade of Beijing residents which stopped the Army on May 20 was ordered by anyone to do so. Within the Square itself, recognized student leaders like Wuer Kaixi on several distinct occasions announced the end of the occupation only to find that while some students left, others, especially those who had traveled from other cities to join up, refused to leave, and lost respect for speakers who urged backing down. That the leaders may have been tactically correct doesn't change the fact that the tactical decisions were made in mass democratic fashion by those in the Square.

Rather than a political move by one group in the CPC leadership, the month and a half long occupation brought the struggle in the leadership to a head. Both Zhao and Li Peng visited the demonstrators shortly before the declaration of martial law. After that all the top leaders disappeared from sight, and the masses of the Chinese people had little but rumors and Western press coverage to go on. This as much as anything else started to take the wind out of the sails of the demonstration -people realized that the future was being decided at levels to which they had little or no access.

Why The Crackdown?

One thing which puzzles many observers is the savage character of the repression of the student movement at Tiananmen (and in Chengdu and elsewhere subsequently). Why didn't the Moderate/Old Guard forces simply let the demonstration peter out or harass it to speed the process up? Of course we can only speculate, but a couple of things should be considered. Tactically, the students had announced their intention to stay on until the meeting of the National People's Congress scheduled for June 20. Normally a rubber stamp body, it is also formally China's highest ruling body. Chosen by elections from the base up, it might, in a time of paralysis in the Party leadership (not to mention with the example of the extraordinary recent session of the Supreme Soviet to consider), prove substantially more likely to initiate political reforms or change the course laid down by Deng.

Strategically there is no reason to assume that Deng and Li Peng, not to mention Peng Zhen and that crew, are blowing smoke: They believe that their opponents in the Party are intent on a course that will steer China off the socialist road and spell disaster. In their view, the impasse had to be broken and restorationist forces beaten back for a long period to come. It is very important to try and conceive of the situation as it appears to Deng and his allies. Their fear of disorder is both real itself and based in reality. To take just one example, the peasants did not play an active role in recent events. However, the Chinese press has reported on a sort of Mao revival in the countryside, at a time when an annual inflation rate of over 25% has resulted in the State paying many peasants for their crops in scrip, government i.o.u.s. The potential for rural unrest is clear.

Finally, decisive measures against the student-led forces of "bourgeois liberalism" would tend to line up or neutralize wavering elements in the other camp and present the Party as a whole with a fait accompli that it would have to rally around. For instance, Wan Li had sent home a telegram from a state visit to Canada and the U.S. opposing the imposition of martial law. But after a stretch under house arrest in Shanghai and the massacre, he appeared on TV with Deng.

It is not true that, as some Leftists and media types are saying, the PLA has never before fired on Chinese citizens. Is there any applicable precedent here in recent Chinese history to this massacre? It is illuminating to look at what took place during the Cultural Revolution in July '68. When Red Guard factions at Beijing's universities had sunk to armed combat between small fanatical grouplets, a heartbroken Mao decided the time had finally come to crack down. Although the students were armed to the teeth with stolen and homemade weapons and explosives, with Mao's approval workers at the Xinhua printing plant mobilized a contingent of over 30,000 workers from neighboring factories to march to Qinghua University and end the fighting--without using force! Although workers were killed and many wounded by the students, they exercised what can only be called proletarian discipline and accomplished their mission. The contrast between this well known incident and the assault on Tiananmen couldn't be clearer.

And this brings up the most striking thing about the whole period commencing with Hu Yaobang's death. It was the students and to a lesser extent the CPC Reformers who applied the mass line, took their case to the people through a wide range of methods and mobilized the masses. Deng Xiaoping for his part concentrated on mobilizing five out of seven top regional military commanders.

What the Future Holds

Predicting what's going to happen in China is a chump's job. There's almost no way to come out of it looking good. So here goes. The first wave of post Tiananmen repression has been fairly extensive and savage. The first trial and executions, of three workers in Shanghai accused of helping burn a train which had just killed six demonstrators, showed a couple of things: the crackdown was going to be harsh and a very serious effort was going to be made to drive a wedge between the students who spearheaded the movement and their supporters, especially from the urban working class. The idea is to teach the classic lesson, "Don't hang around with these irresponsible kids, because you're going to be the ones who get clobbered." Internal CPC documents from the time of the 1986 student democracy demonstrations cite Deng as saying, "Polish leaders were soberminded and firm. Confronted with the challenge from the church, which colluded with the worker union, and supported by the West, they brought the situation under control through martial law." Uh huh.

The repression goes far beyond the executions and the thousands of reported arrests. The media is being brought back under close central control and made a key tool in denying the scale of what happened in terms of participation, number of deaths, etc. Even so, some papers have been waging an anti crackdown campaign with allusive articles like a recent one about Argentina in People's Daily. It said, "Now, the Alfonsin government has already completely lost administrative ability. The majority in the ruling party propose that he should retire early from his political post to prevent the entire party from further loss of reputation."

The struggle over the future course of the Party and China is clearly not over. While Zhao has been officially deposed from all Party positions along with Hu Qili and Sichuan Party chief Yang Rudai, a number of other figures closely associated with him have been retained and Deng was unable to generate a unanimous vote for Zhao's ouster on the Politburo. Nor have any publicly reported steps been taken against the military officers who petitioned and spoke on television against the use of armed force against student demonstrators. The Old Guard forces whose support was crucial to the Deng/Li axis are really old and the experience of first Hu Yaobang and now Zhao Ziyang, both handpicked by Deng for their top slots, indicates that it is pressures and dynamics built into the present economic and political situation in China that impel leaders into heterodoxy, independent of anyone's will.

The most serious question is to what extent the crackdown has damaged the Party's authority among the masses. Especially if, as seems likely, the People's Republic is in for a fairly protracted period of internal repression, banal and stilted ideological rectification campaigns, and continued Party infighting, Deng's crackdown may prove a colossal miscalculation, a case of "In order to preserve stability, it became necessary to destroy it." For instance, China's students in the current vision are an essential element in the drive to modernize the country. How many of the roughly 50,000 students studying abroad are now poised enthusiastically to return home to contribute to socialist construction? There have already been mass resignations by Party members studying on U.S. campuses.

And what is the future of the democracy movement? For certain it will be weaker and more anti¬Party for some time to come. It is not likely to vanish though.

Some Theoretical Implications

The question which best sums up the crisis of socialism is a very simple one: what is socialism? The problems and failures of what are often called actually existing socialist societies make it so. In the absence of a clear socialist vision or model which adequately deals with the shortcomings, we would do well to remind ourselves of some basic points. First, socialism is not just: 1) a thoroughgoing welfare state (the iron rice bowl); 2) a rising standard of living for the majority of people; 3) state or collective ownership of the bulk of the means of production; 4) in Third World countries, the defense of national interests against imperialism. To be sure all of these should be characteristics of any socialist country, but they are not the essence.

Socialism is a transition. It is a transitional stage of social development en route to classless society on a global scale. As such it does have some essential characteristics: 1) the masses learning to be masters of all of society; 2) the breaking down of divisions from previous levels of social development (including male and female, mental and manual, urban and rural), so that all can share more or less equally in the production of social wealth; 3) making accessible to everyone the forms of knowledge and skill used in regulating society's relationship to nature; 4) the devotion of resources to maximizing the human capacity for creativity and happiness.

So far, socialists have not been able to stake out a clear course to advance this transition. The real world is after all an infinitely complex and frequently nasty place. We have learned that motion toward classless society, communism, comes up against many barriers. There are class enemies, internal and external; the inertia of large institutions and social systems, which produces stasis; ignorance and the terrible force of habit of millions and tens of millions; and the fact that a national economy has its own dynamics and isn't subject to transformation based simply on someone's ability to imagine a better way of doing things.

The CPC turned to the market for good reason: economic growth was stalled, and the central plan had proved inadequate to guide production and promote growth at a microeconomic level (plant by plant, locality by locality).

But extensive use of the market has practical consequences. It accelerates bourgeois right and deepens divisions among the Chinese people, with some individuals, enterprises and regions becoming richer and others losing out. Further the market insinuates itself into every sphere of existence. Take housing, once provided in urban areas by work units or the State. With more men and women working for small enterprises, themselves, or entrepreneurs, their housing needs will be met at unsubsidized rates and likely through spontaneous and for-profit construction. In doing all this, the market, both because it is acting as an indicative and regulatory mechanism and because of the inequities it produces, erodes the authority and the hegemony of the Party and State.

Finally, the market has ideological consequences. It promotes selfishness, as we witnessed so painfully during the Reagan years. The market promotes material incentive over moral incentive, but material incentives come with a moral built in. And when that moral is publicly reinforced with slogans like "Some must get rich first," then all the rhetoric in the world about socialist spiritual civilization is going to have a hollow and unconvincing ring to it. Last August 31, a China Daily article reported: "A survey of 8,535 employees in Dalien Shipbuilding Plant shows that 74 percent of them think that unequal distribution of wages has largely dampened their concern for their work."

On the political front, the lessons we have to start thinking about are clearer, some being raised directly by the mass movement and its supporters. It is a tautology to say that the Communist Party is a party of the working class; the Party runs China; therefore the working class and its allies run China. To be sure, the Party does the running. To an extent, this means the proletariat, as a self conscious class for itself, is running China. The question is, in what direction is the very real contradiction between the Party and the people moving?

We are not anarchists who say these things mean the Party must be destroyed. Nor are we Tories who hold that someone has to rule the peons. We are materialists who have faith in the capacities of the masses of people and know that they learn by doing. And the lessons of recent events--the squashing of the public discourse over China's future, the top down character of the inner-Party struggle and eventual response to the students, and the savagery of the attack on the demonstrators, their supporters and bystanders--in no way draw people more deeply into the running of their own country. Rather they produce fear, cynicism and alienation.

The turmoil also points up that the mechanisms the Chinese Revolution has produced to date are painfully inadequate to lead the people in an active transition. The National People's Congress is once again revealed as a joke body whose function is to place a formal democratic stamp on issues already decided, stands already taken and policies already being implemented. Even the Politburo was bypassed by Deng in his push to knock out Zhao and stop the demonstrations. As pointed out before, the ability to line up the majority of the top military commanders is not necessarily the best criterion to determine which position is correct in a complex line struggle.

These failures of the existing order also point up the importance of a theme Deng and others in China have been raising for almost a decade--the need for the rule of law. Stability does not mean the absence of disorder. Hell, dialectics teaches us that stability is temporary and conditional while instability, contradiction, is permanent and general. Stability lies in having a social structure and laws which permit contradiction and crises to be worked out within a framework commonly agreed upon and which minimize the threat to the life, liberty and individual rights of those who participate, not to mention bystanders.

Okay, it's easy to criticize and say the existing mechanisms are inadequate. Where do new ones come from? It's hard to make up a whole social system in your head and even harder to convince anyone else that it's real. What people tend to do is look for precedents. This is where the fascination with European parliamentary democracy, the U.S. separation of powers, and other bourgeois forms of rule comes from. Nor is this simply a reactionary phenomenon. If the evaluation is undertaken from a proletarian class stand and tries for objectivity, there is plenty, some of it positive, to be learned from these Western forms. By the same token, the experience of the Paris Commune, now largely discredited in China because of misuses during the Cultural Revolution, still holds valuable lessons.

New forms can come from efforts to drastically reform old ones. The changes taking place in the Supreme Soviet and the Polish parliament will certainly be rich in lessons. Civil society itself will, if permitted, produce non Party forms like, say, independent unions or student organizations which can make real contributions. It may very well turn out that some kind of multi party structure is necessary for the transition to communism.

Socialist New Forms?

The need to develop new and better mechanisms of rule for the period of transition, socialism, is a classically Marxist one, dealing with the relationship between the economic base and the political superstructure. During the last few months, the Western media carried on at length about how China's economic reforms made necessary political reforms, meaning that since the Chinese government was turning "capitalist," it would have to adopt "American style democracy" as well. It is a facile and self serving, not to mention self glorifying, argument. No matter how annoying it is, it also contains a materialist element in that changes in the economic base do call into being changes in the superstructure, including the State.

Whatever its other shortcomings, the model of a single party which dominates the state structure is a reasonable "fit" for a centrally planned economy in which State and collective ownership of the means of production are about the only forms which exist. With the Party based in workplace units and the people's communes, it is in direct daily touch with the needs and views of the masses. For their part, the people get some representation, even if flawed, some input into the functioning of their government. But the reforms have changed the fit. In the countryside, communes, brigades and workteams are no longer the basic economic units, the family is. In the urban areas, the reforms have produced several layers of people who are not represented as individuals or as socioeconomic strata in the current structure- vendors and other entrepreneurs, those businesspeople who employ wage labor, the women and men who work for them, workers in small cooperatives in the service sector in particular, or in new small workshops which have been spun off by established plants. These folks are out of the loop. They don't have any direct leverage on what happens in the Party. For the Party, the consequences are equally serious- there is a growing section of the economy which hasn't been fitted into the existing structure, which makes the practice of the mass line more difficult, not to mention the implementation of policy. Either the Party/State ruling structure must be changed or these contradictions will expand and become even more explosive.

The Revolution Will Be Televised

A big part of the context for the U.S. Left's response to the turmoil in China is the enormous interest the demonstration and crackdown found among the U.S. people. Televisions in bars were tuned to Cable News Network. Evidently the revolution will be televised. This was the most media saturated, real-time coverage event ever. It was an inescapable topic of conversation. There was even a spate of the kind of disaster jokes which show that an event has shocked a wide range of people ("D'ja hear about the new fashion fad in Beijing? Tank tops."). In general, the spontaneous response was one of sympathy and support for the students and anger at the Chinese government and Party, and at the apparent equivocation of the U.S. government and big business.

The bad part, of course, is that the media and politicians of all stripes have gone nuts with anti-communist tirades. Their position is that the Chinese people want Democrats and Republicans and large shopping malls just like us and the communists hate the idea so much they are willing to have rivers of blood running in the streets of Beijing in order to prevent it.

This is no small deal. The pall of Tiananmen will hang heavy over left wing and socialist politics in the U.S. for several years to come. The Time/Newsweek utter bankruptcy of the¬communist system analysis has fertile soil in the spontaneous reactions of the population here. At a time when U.S. capitalists have little to boast about and a growing list of worries, it is ironic that the best propaganda they have to defend their system is the practice of socialism in power. Without a political understanding of some of the complexities and larger issues involved, U.S. socialists will be ill equipped to counter the continuing bourgeois ideological offensive.

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