Deng Xiaoping – The World’s Greatest Economist

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Deng Xiaoping

Deng Xiaoping

This article was originally posted on John’s blog, Key Trends in Globalisation on the 23rd of August.

August 22, 2014 is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping. Numerous achievements would ensure Deng Xiaoping a major position in China’s history – his role in shaping the People’s Republic of China, his steadfastness during persecution in the Cultural Revolution, his extraordinarily balanced attitude even after return to power towards the development and recent history of China, his all-round role after 1978 in leading the country. But one ensures him a position among a tiny handful of people at the peak not only of Chinese but of world history. This was China’s extraordinary economic achievement after reforms began in 1978, and the decisive role this played not only in the improvement of the living standards of Chinese people but the country’s national rejuvenation. So great was the impact of this that it may objectively be said to have altered the situation not only of China but of the world.

China’s economic performance after the beginning of its 1978 reforms simply exceeded the experience of any other country in human history. To give only a partial list:

  • China achieved the most rapid growth in a major economy in world history.
  • China experienced the fastest growth of living standards of any major economy.
  • China lifted 620 million people out of internationally defined poverty.
  • Measured in internationally comparable prices, adjusted for inflation, the greatest increase in economic output in a single year in any country outside China was the U.S. in 1999, when it added US$567 billion, whereas in 2010 China added US$1,126 billion – twice as much.
  • During the beginning of China’s rapid growth, 22 percent of the world’s population was within its borders – seven times that of United States at the beginning of its own fast economic development.

Wholly implausibly, it is sometimes argued that this success was merely due to “pragmatism” and achieved without overall economic theories, concepts, or a leadership really understanding the subject (particularly with no knowledge of U.S. academic economics!). If true, then the study of economics should immediately be abandoned – if the greatest economic success in world history can be achieved without any understanding of the subject, then it is evidently of no practical value whatever.

In reality this argument is entirely specious. Deng Xiaoping’s approach to economic policy was certainly highly practical regarding application – the famous “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white provided it catches mice.” But it was extremely theoretical regarding foundations – as shown clearly in such works as In Everything We Do We Must Proceed from the Realities of the Primary Stage of Socialism, We Are Undertaking An Entirely New Endeavour, and Adhere to the Principle to Each According to his Work. Deng Xiaoping’s outstanding practical success was guided by a clearly defined theoretical underpinning, which can be understood particularly clearly in its historical context and in comparison with Western and other economists.

As is generally known, after 1949 the newly created People’s Republic of China constructed an economy, fundamental elements of which were drawn from the Soviet Union. It is important to understand that there was nothing irrational in this – the USSR, up to that time, had the world’s most rapidly growing economy.

Indeed, the immediate post-1929 success of the USSR was of extraordinary dimensions. During 1929-39 the USSR achieved 6 percent annual GDP growth, which until then was by far the fastest ever achieved by a major economy, and almost twice the historical growth rate of the United States. Despite colossal destruction in World War II, by 1949 the USSR had already regained its prewar production level.

The elements which produced such historically unprecedented economic growth were clear. From 1929, Stalin, with the First Five Year Plan, launched the USSR on an economic policy never previously attempted in any country – construction of a national basically self-enclosed administered economy. Resources were not allocated by price but by material quantities – a steel factory did not buy iron ore on the market but had it allocated by administrative decision. Foreign trade was minimized. State ownership was applied even to small scale private enterprises such as restaurants. Farmers’ small holdings were eliminated and agriculture organized into large scale collective farms.

Despite verbal claims that this policy was “Marxist,” Stalin’s economic structure was in fact radically at variance with that of Marx himself. To use the Marxist terminology common to both China and the USSR, Soviet economic policy in 1929, in a single step, replaced economic regulation by prices (exchange value) by allocation by material use (use value).

Marx had written a socialist state would: “wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state… and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.” In writing “by degree” Marx clearly envisaged a period during which state owned and private property would both exist. Instead, in the USSR in 1929 essentially all property was taken into the state sector.

The very word “socialism” is derived from “socialized” (i.e. large scale) production – not small scale peasant output. However in the USSR, after 1929, even small scale peasant plots were taken into state ownership – prior to their administrative elimination. However, simultaneously with suppression of small scale private output, the advantages of very large scale production were eliminated by the nationally self-enclosed character of the USSR’s economy – a U.S. aircraft manufacturer like Boeing sold into the world market, but a Soviet manufacturer such as Ilyushin could produce aircraft only for the far smaller Soviet economy.

Soviet economists who pointed out these issues were executed by Stalin for doing so, but in any case such criticism appeared “theoretical quibbles” compared to proven Soviet economic success.

After 1945 this dynamic changed. In 1929 the global economy had been collapsing into “autarchic” states or empires. The United States, the British Empire, Japan and Nazi Germany, were cut off from each other by tariff walls. The international monetary system, the Gold Standard, collapsed without replacement. Amid such global economic chaos, the autarchic socialist USSR far outperformed autarchic capitalist economies.

But following World War II, the integrated world economy was gradually rebuilt. A new international payments system, the dollar standard, was created. Tariffs were reduced. The Soviet economy was small compared to this new world economy, and could not be integrated into it without relaxation of its planning system – as global economic fluctuations could not be planned for. Collectivized Soviet agriculture was unproductive and the USSR’s consumer goods of low quality, due to Stalin’s insistence on overwhelming priority to heavy industry – in Stalin’s words: “What does a fast rate of development of industry involve? It involves the maximum capital investment in industry.” By the 1970s Soviet economic growth, while more rapid than the United States, was far slower than Japan or South Korea – which were selling into the world market.

But, if the USSR’s economy was heading to crisis, the free market system, its only existing alternative, was by the 1970s showing its own difficulties. After the 1973 “oil price crisis,” most developed capitalist economies decelerated dramatically. The United States both slowed and from the early 1980s began the huge debt accumulation which eventually culminated in the 2008 international financial crisis. When the free market model was applied to the former USSR, from 1992 onwards, it led to the greatest economic collapse in a major economy in peacetime in history – Russia’s GDP fell by 30 percent.

Confronted with decisive problems in both dominant economic models, instead of remaining trapped within one or the other, Deng Xiaoping embarked on a policy never previously seen – creation of what is now referred to in China as a “socialist market economy.”

In one sense, Deng Xiaoping went from the USSR’s post-1929 model “back to Marx.” Underlying Deng Xiaoping’s analysis from 1978, frequently in its literal wording, was Marx’s famous “Critique of the Gotha Programme” – his most extensive commentary on the construction of a socialist society.

To see this close relation here for example is Marx’s analysis: “What we are dealing with… is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but… just as it emerges from capitalist society.” For a person in such a society: “The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.” But: “In a higher phase of communist society… after the productive forces have also increased… society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!”

Deng Xiaoping’s own post-1978 formulation is almost word for word Marx’s: “A Communist society is one in which… there is great material abundance, and the principle of from each according to their ability, to each according to his needs, is applied. It is impossible to apply that principle without overwhelming material wealth. But in the present period in China, before the accumulation of such wealth, the principle was to each according to their labor/work: ‘We must adhere to this socialist principle which calls for distribution according to the quantity and quality of an individual’s work.” Deng’s fundamental characterization was: “China is in the primary stage of socialism. Socialism itself is the first stage of communism, and here in China we are still in the primary stage of socialism – that is, the underdeveloped stage. In everything we do we must proceed from this reality, and all planning must be consistent with it.”

But while in one sense Deng Xiaoping “returned to Marx,” he necessarily had to resolve many problems of a modern economy Marx never envisaged. Purely theoretically, a number of these had been analyzed by Keynes in the 1930s. Keynes’ fundamental conclusion was that investment played the determining role in the economy, “the fluctuations of output… depend almost entirely on the amount of current investment” (Keynes conclusion has since been comprehensively confirmed by statistics). As, in a modern economy, investment is financed by borrowing, Keynes advocated very low interest rates to incentivize investment. But Keynes judged these alone would be insufficient to stably maintain an adequate investment level. It was therefore necessary for the state to play a direct role in setting the level of investment: “I am… skeptical of the success of a merely monetary policy directed towards influencing the rate of interest… I expect to see the state… taking an ever greater responsibility for directly organizing investment.” Keynes noted: “I conclude that the duty of ordering the current volume of investment cannot safely be left in private hands.”

But if the “the current volume of investment” were to be set, Keynes realized this meant a large state investment role: “I conceive… that a somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment will prove the only means of securing an approximation to full employment.”

Keynes noted such a “somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment” did not mean eliminating the private sector, but socialized state investment operating together with a private sector: “This need not exclude all manner of compromises and devices by which public authority will co-operate with private initiative… The central controls necessary to ensure full employment will, of course, involve a large extension of the traditional functions of government.” Keynes, consequently, envisaged an economy in which a private sector existed but in which the state sector was sufficiently dominant to set overall investment levels.

But Keynes’ analysis remained purely theoretical. It could not be implemented in the West for an insurmountable reason – which is why the West’s “Keynesianism” bears little relation to Keynes’ own writings! Capital investment is “the means of production.” If the most basic investment decisions were not taken by private capital, it would no longer be a capitalist society. Keynes had developed an incisive theoretical analysis, but which could not be implemented in the society in which he lived.

Problems which were insurmountable for Keynes were, however, no problem for Deng Xiaoping – as he did not intend to create a capitalist society! To be clear, there is no evidence Deng Xiaoping’s economic concepts were directly influenced by Keynes. But ideas Deng Xiaoping was entirely familiar with from Marx led to the same economic structure as Keynes. The state would retain ownership of large scale (i.e. socialized) economic sectors, thereby giving it the ability to regulate the investment level, while smaller scale economic sectors (non-socialized production) could be released to the private or non-state sector. The state therefore did not need to own the overall economy, just to own enough to set the overall investment level.

This is evidently the policy applied in China from 1978 by the replacement of the rural People’s Communes created in the 1950s (collectivized agriculture) with small scale based farming (the “household responsibility system”). Then the policy known as Zhuada Fangxiao (“keep the large, let go the small”) could be embarked on – maintaining large state firms within the state sector and releasing small ones to the non-state/private sector.

Therefore, although a vibrant private sector was created, the state sector was still large enough to set the overall investment level – i.e. the state sector remained dominant. As the Wall Street Journal summarized: “Most economies can pull two levers to bolster growth – fiscal and monetary. China has a third option … accelerate the flow of investment projects.” An economic structure envisaged only in theory by Keynes was realized in practice by Deng Xiaoping.

Deng Xiaoping’s economic structure simultaneously solved the problem of diverting resources from heavy industry and creating an abundant supply of consumer products. As the state owned heavy industry, prices in this sector could be controlled, while simultaneously those in agriculture and light consumer industry were liberalized. Relative prices therefore rose in agriculture and consumer industries, resources flowed into these sectors and their output soared. Simultaneously the urban population was protected against initial negative pressures on living standards by these price rises by subsidies financed by reducing China’s armaments expenditure. The extraordinarily rapid growth this structure produced created large scale savings which, in a virtuous circle, could then finance the building of heavy industry on a new basis.

Simultaneously with reintroducing small scale “non-socialized” production, China’s economy pursued international “opening up,” allowing it to participate in the largest scale production of all – for the global market.

Therefore, far from Deng Xiaoping’s economic policies being purely pragmatic, they flowed in an integrated fashion from underlying theoretical principles through to the solving of eminently practical issues. It was this which produced by far the greatest economic growth and social advancement seen in any country in world history.

This integrated character of Deng Xiaoping’s economic system also explains why any diversion from it necessarily leads to economic problems. Any return to an administered economy leads to inability to take advantage of small-scale production and to integrate with, and take advantage of, a world economic market. Any system in which private enterprise is dominant loses the ability of the state to set the investment level, and thereby recreates the crises which both Keynes and Deng Xiaoping had successfully solved how to tackle. In short, no other figure in history has ever combined such deep economic thinking with such practically successful economic policy as Deng Xiaoping.

Deng Xiaoping was above all a great leader of the Chinese people. Through pursuit of his country’s national revival, lifting over 620 million people out of poverty, he also made an unparalleled contribution to humanity’s overall well-being.

But if that were not enough, Deng Xiaoping had another achievement. By far the greatest economist of the 20th century was not Keynes, Hayek or Friedman but Deng Xiaoping.

* * *

 This article originally appeared on China.org.cn on 22 August 2014.

The author is Senior Fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

 

16 Responses

  1. FergusD

    August 27, 2014 2:41 pm

    These articles about China from the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China – are very uncritical and somewhat reminiscent of the old Maoist style “praise the great helmsman” stuff. A bit odd on Irish Left Review.

  2. Donagh

    August 28, 2014 9:27 am

    Here’s more blind propaganda

    From Doug Henwood’s facebook feed:
    “[India] had, in terms of morbidity, mortality and longevity, suffered an excess in mortality over China of close to 4 [million] a year during the same period [of the Great Leap Forward]… Thus, in this one geographical area alone, more deaths resulted from ‘this failed capitalist experiment’ (more than 100 million by 1980) than can be contributed to the ‘failed communist experiment’ all over the world since 1917.”
    – Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning economist, quoted in Antony Black, ‘Black propaganda’, Guardian Weekly, Feb. 24, 2000

    Jean Dreze; Amartya Sen – Hunger and Public Action, pp. 214-215: “Finally, it is important to note that despite the gigantic size of excess mortality in the Chinese famine, the extra mortality in India from regular deprivation in normal times vastly overshadows the former…. India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame.

    And this too from Doug Henwood:
    Ok, more China vs. India. According to the Chen-Ravallion paper from the WB (http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2010/01/21/000158349_20100121133109/Rendered/PDF/WPS4703.pdf), recommended by global income guru Branko Milanovic, in 1981, 99.4% of Chinese and 92.5% of Indians lived on less than $2.50 a day (well above the WB’s classic poverty definition). In 2005, that had fallen to 49.5% in China, and 85.7% in India. In other words, halved in China and barely changed in India. Indian’s neoliberal boom exists mainly in the heads of neoliberals.

    This is the outcome of a recent labour dispute, as an indication of increased labour militancy in China:
    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/08/china-labor-insurgency/
    “This unwillingness to negotiate was unacceptable to the state, and it brought in the Guangzhou Automotive CEO and National People’s Congress delegate Zeng Qinghong to speak with the workers. Through gentle and paternalistic persuasion, late on June 1, Zeng convinced the strikers to select representatives and to begin a conditional resumption of production.

    In their open letter, the worker representatives had said that if management did not meet their demands within three days, the strike would be resumed. Furthermore, the letter had stated that “bargaining representatives will not accept anything less than the above-listed demands without the authorization of a general meeting of employees.” Finally, negotiations began on the third.

    On June 4, the worker representatives were joined by Chang Kai, a well-known labor scholar from Beijing, who served as their legal counsel. Negotiations went late into the night, and eventually an agreement was struck.

    Regular workers were to receive wage increases of approximately RMB 500, bringing their monthly wages above RMB 2,000. The underpaid interns who worked alongside regular workers saw their wages increase by more than 70 percent, to more than RMB 600. Such large wage increases in response to strikes were unprecedented in China and may leave an important mark on the struggles yet to come.”

  3. John Ross

    August 28, 2014 10:05 am

    If anyone can find inaccurate facts in this or my other articles please point them out. They have not done so because they are not inaccurate.

    China’s has brought 620 million people out of poverty – accounting for 100% of the reduction of the number of people living in poverty in the world, it has created the fastest rise in living standards of any major country in the world.

    It is not necessary to be uncritical of China, and I am most certainly not, to fail to understand that these are the biggest contributions to human well being made anywhere in the world.

    If these real facts seem unfamiliar it is because Western governments are desperate to prevent them being known and because they cannot reply to them.

  4. John Ross

    August 28, 2014 10:13 am

    Incidentally it is because Western critics of China cannot refute the real facts on its development that their proposal is not that they write a reply but that these facts should not be published!

  5. John Ross

    August 28, 2014 1:43 pm

    My economic criticisms of China? Inequality is far too high, complete official misunderstanding of relation between share prices and share market and economic growth, big mistake to privatise all housing, wrong theories of causes of economic growth – and I could add more. But all this small compared to lifting 620 million people out of poverty.

  6. Seosamh

    September 5, 2014 11:48 pm

    How much of China’s amazing growth is due to capitalist introduction into the economy; how much is due to state dirigiste powers; how much is due to a huge cheap labour market, largely non-unionised; how much is due to the presence of salaries and working conditions well below what obtains in Western Europe; and how much is due to a state-guided mass media that does not report on labour and other disputes affecting the rights of peasants and labourers?

  7. Paul Dillon

    September 21, 2014 6:03 pm

    Is Irish Left Review a forum for serious, critical, informative articles or a vehicle for propaganda such as this ‘great leader’ drivel?

    ‘…unparalelled contribution to humanity’s well-being’ – such as demonstrated in 1989 at Tiananmen Square.

  8. Donagh

    September 22, 2014 12:23 pm

    Paul, how am I supposed to take a comment seriously that doesn’t engage with the material in the post? As far as I am aware propaganda doesn’t use informed argument and verifiable empirical data. To use two points mentioned above: poverty levels and the demonstration in 1989 at Tiananmen Square.

    Firstly, since the crisis in 2008 the number of people in Europe who become more deprived have increased massively, according to the Red Cross:

    The European Union (EU) statistics agency, Eurostat, has released data on the amount of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In 2011, a quarter of EU’s population was at risk, having increased by 6 million since 2009 to 120 million in total. Whilst other continents successfully reduce poverty, Europe adds to it.

    http://www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/134339/1260300-Economic%20crisis%20Report_EN_LR.pdf

    In 2003 hundreds of thousands protested against the planned war in Iraq. This is from details of the international protests on March 22-23 in the week after the invasion :

    “Media report about 150,000 protesters in Barcelona (other sources say 1,000,000); more than 100,000 (other sources: up to 500,000) protesters in London; some 100,000 protesters in Paris; at least 150,000 protesters altogether in many German cities; between 35,000 and 90,000 in Lisbon; around 40,000 in Bern, the largest protest in Switzerland for decades; 10,000 to 20,000 in Greece, Denmark and Finland. 250,000 protesters demonstrated in New York City according to the German Spiegel Online magazine. There were protests in Washington, D.C.. In Chicago, protesters disrupted traffic by closing down Lake Shore Drive. CNN reported that a march of over a thousand protesters in Atlanta, Georgia passed by their headquarters, upset over that network’s coverage of the war. Canada likewise experienced numerous anti-war protests over the weekend. Crowds of anti-war demonstrators took to the streets of Montreal and Toronto. Calgary held three days of protests (20 March – 22nd), culminating in a march which surrounded the government building and American consulate. In the Italian city of Naples 10,000 anti-war protesters marched towards a NATO base in Bagnoli. Protests also took place in Wellington, New Zealand.;[50] the Australian cities of Brisbane and Hobart (which were brought to a halt); Jakarta, Indonesia, where protesters converged on the US embassy; across South Korea including the capital Seoul, where Buddhist monks played drums to console the sprits of war casualties to the 2,000 protesters; across India including 15,000 in Calcutta; Bangladesh which saw a general strike (closing down many businesses and mosques); and Japan, including protests near US naval and air bases on the southern island of Okinawa.[51] Thousands of protesters, mainly Muslims, demonstrated across the African continent. Hundreds (BBC estimate) of young people marched in Mombasa in Kenya. The Somali capital Mogadishu saw protests by students, Koranic schoolchildren, women and intellectuals.[52] There were reports about massive conflicts between protesters and police in the Gulf state of Bahrain for the second day.”

    According to the Lancet survey, to pick but one, there were 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths between March 2003 to June 2006, that is as a result of the Iraq war.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War

    All this is not to say that this is an attempt to give a free pass to the Chinese government with regard to the Tiananmen Square or anything else, but given what has been achieved in China, as John has pointed out, it’s worth looking at it again in light of the above information.

  9. Paul Dillon

    September 22, 2014 4:52 pm

    Donagh,

    True, propaganda doesn’t use verifiable empirical data and informed argument. But what does the author conclude from this data? What is his argument leading to? This hyperbolic nonsense: ‘By far the greatest economist of the twentieth century…’. ‘No other figure in history has ever combined such deep economic thinking with such practically successful economic policy as Deng Xiaoping’. The ‘great leader’. When language sounds like Hitlerite or Stalinist (or Mao-era Chinese) propaganda glorifying a dictatorial regime, then any thinking person has a right, indeed a duty, to challenge it.

    In reply to my mention of the Tiananmen Square massacre, you detailed the millions who protested in the west against the Iraq war, and the hundreds of thousands who died in that war. Sorry, but you’ve lost me. This just points out that in western capitalist democracies people generally have the right to public protest, but they were not listened to. So western imperialism is responsible for enormous crimes. True, but I don’t see your point.

    My point, to elaborate, was that China was, then and now, run by a bureaucratic one-party dictatorship which slaughtered thousands of its citizens for raising democratic demands, imprisoned many more, and lied and continues to lie about those events.

    The slaughter in Tiananmen Square happened under the ‘great leader’ in question, the great economist lauded by John Ross.

    Yes, many millions of Chinese have had improvements in their standard of living. That is true, as was much of John’s article. And, admirably, he was not uncritical of the regime’s economic policies, and pointed to increased inequality.

    But some context is needed. This is an Irish political website. Irish business interaction with China is rapidly increasing, accompanied by propaganda from various sources trying to ‘normalise’ China as just another capitalist country, just another source of capital invested in Ireland, and just another market. So while you are, fortunately, free to publish what you please, hopefully some critical voices will be raised when suspicious articles appear – often using risible language – essentially glorifying the Chinese regime and former blood-stained ‘great leaders’ such as Deng.

    In recent years western governments, including Irish politicians – noticeably true of the present government – have become increasingly silent about Chinese human rights abuses. For one obvious reason – there’s money to be made. Since the opening up of the Chinese economy to capitalism, western capitalists seeking Chinese markets and cheap labour and Chinese capitalists expanding into the west have conspired to ignore the absence of democracy, political repression, executions and torture, and denial of religious freedom. And neither western governments’ pretence that these abuses don’t exist, nor any glorification of China’s great leaders will prevent Chinese people from increasingly demanding these freedoms.

  10. Donagh Brennan

    September 23, 2014 5:24 pm

    “hopefully some critical voices will be raised when suspicious articles appear – often using risible language – essentially glorifying the Chinese regime and former blood-stained ‘great leaders’ such as Deng.”

    All critical voices are welcome. That’s why there are comments open on articles, although few choose to actually comment. But with that there must be some real engagement, which is why I appreciate you commenting again to elaborate your point.

    I do not think that the language in this article is ‘risable’. One of the qualities that John brings, in my opinion is a clear and well researched counterpoint to lots of negative, and poorly informed, comment about China. One of the regularly repeated negative comments about China is it human rights record. We are told that it is a repressive dictatorship where access to information is blocked – that is not to say its not happening at some level. But such a view is rarely put in context or based on real information about what is going on. It also appears to be a conflation of China with North Korea. Your reference to Deng as the ‘Great Leader’ is I think part of this. Is there a personality cult around Deng Xiaoping, as there is around Kim Jong Il, who took upon himself the title the ‘Great Leader’? I don’t think so, I don’t think that this article is doing what you describe.

    You say that Deng is ‘blood stained’. Perhaps that is true, but my reason for referring to the protests before and deaths following the Iraq war was because the scale of slaughter cannot be compared to anything that happened in China in 1989. You say it was a massacre of thousands, but several internationally verified reports show that it was only around 500, and that no one died at Tiananmen Square itself. Again, in order to provide some perspective: there is no doubt that the Cultural Revolution was misguided and authoritarian. However, when it was happening , from October 4, 1965 to August 15, 1973, the United States dropped 2,756,941 tons’ worth of bombs on Cambodia. To put the 2,756,941 tons in perspective the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons of bombs during all of World War II.

    http://www.yale.edu/cgp/Walrus_CambodiaBombing_OCT06.pdf

    I mention this only to put in context the comment that ‘Deng’is blood-stained ‘great leaders’ similar to Stalin or Hitler.

    If China was to escape the error of the Soviet Union it needs to trade with developed, that is, capitalist, economies. That Western economies changed their tune regarding human rights in the mid 90s or so says more about the ability of China to expand its economy as such an exponential rate. How they were able to do so without having the same problems as capitalist countries illustrates that what Deng was able to achieve is different to the neoliberal program that is now all pervasive and is causing such misery.

    There is a lesson for socialists here looking for alternatives to capitalism as it exists throughout the world. However, people seem to be blinded by the propaganda – and it is propaganda – of which China’s human rights record is one small part. In this regard you might find this paper interesting:
    http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/283/1/WRAP_Breslin_roape-china-2.pdf

    None of this is to excuse the actions of deeply centralised government whose actions should always be critically examined and criticised where appropriate. However that can’t be done by resorting to ill informed cliques.

  11. Seosamh

    September 24, 2014 10:28 am

    On the one hand… On the other hand… Two-handed political commentary. The GDP annual growth in China these past two decades has been amazing. The urban middle classes have grown in numbers – one significant indicator being the fact that more than 15 million Chinese tourists, business visitors and students went abroad in 2012. Another indicator is the rapid increase in SUVs and family cars to be seen on the city streets, with accumulating parking problems. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of villages and small towns stagnate – an indicator being the massive migration from impoverished areas to the congested boom cities. In January and February each year, when migrant workers travel long journeys home to their folks to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the China railway network carries about 190 million passengers during a three-week period. In the 1930s a Soviet foreign minister said that Peace is Indivisible. Somebody nowadays needs to say that Human Rights are Indivisible.

    I agree with the remark that very few visitors to this site use the comments facility to Discuss the content and arguments in posted articles.

  12. Donagh Brennan

    September 24, 2014 12:03 pm

    Thanks for the comment but I’m not sure what your point is Seosamh.

    So far there has been very little engagement with the substance of John’s article except to say that it’s Pro Chinese Communist Party propaganda. In my comments the so called ‘Two-handed political commentary’ is because I am trying to stress, as has already been mentioned, that this is about looking at the achievement and seeing what can be learned from it, and is not an attempt to give an uncritical view of the Chinese government.

    On the human rights issue here are two points of view:

    “Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “Actually, national sovereignty is far more important than human rights, but the Group of Seven (or Eight) often infringe upon the sovereignty of poor, weak countries of the Third World. Their talk about human rights, freedom and democracy is designed only to safeguard the interests of the strong, rich countries, which take advantage of their strength to bully weak countries, and which pursue hegemony and practise power politics.”5 Looking back on the history of over 100 years, colonial and imperialist aggression, plunder and oppression have reduced many countries in the world to the status of colonies and semi-colonies; their peoples live in an abyss of misery. After a country loses its sovereignty it is impossible for its people to enjoy real human rights. Historical experience tells us that the “first priority should always be given to national sovereignty and security.”

    “Some Western countries, on the pretext that China has an unsatisfactory human rights record and an irrational and illegitimate socialist system, attempt to jeopardise our national sovereignty. But countries that play power politics are not qualified to talk about human rights. How many people’s human rights have they violated throughout the world!”6 In fact, it is the third world developing countries which pay most attention to human rights. Their people most bitterly hate the power politics and hegemony of the great powers which take advantage of their strength to bully weak countries, through cruel colonial and imperialist invasion.”
    http://www.crvp.org/book/series03/iii-20/chapter_iv.htm

    “Human rights protection was written into the Constitution in 2004, which attracted widespread attention. Eight years later, The National People’s Congress amends the Criminal Procedure Law and once again highlights the principle of protecting human rights.

    The criminal litigation system closely relates with citizens’ personal freedom and other fundamental rights. Writing human rights protection into the law can not only show the socialist nature of China’s judicial system, but also better follow the principle of respecting and protecting human rights in criminal proceedings.

    The human rights legal system of socialism with Chinese characteristics should provide comprehensive and systematic legal guarantees for respecting and safeguarding human rights, serving people’s livelihood and protecting the legitimate rights and interests of citizens. ”
    http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90785/7755910.html

    When it comes to China and human rights, the situation is, like most things to do with China, complicated.

  13. Paul Dillon

    September 24, 2014 8:24 pm

    Donagh,
    Thanks for your reply. A few points.
    Yes, I agree there is lots of negative, poorly informed comment about China.
    Yes, much of it, especially if originating from US government sources, or indeed the UN, is applying a double standard, turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, India and other western allies; just as in the Cold War era the US and its allies turned a blind eye to Chile and South Africa, while condemning the USSR’s record. Obviously much western criticism of China is hypocritical.

    That does not mean that characterisation of China as a repressive dictatorship is ill-informed. There are many English-language academic studies, based on Chinese sources, that provide ample evidence.

    About engaging with the article, I chose to engage with one aspect: the glorification of Deng and the whitewashing of the nature of the regime. That, I’d suggest, is enough to be getting on with.

    I didn’t suggest that Deng was the subject of a cult of the ‘Great Leader’ North Korea-style, in China then or now. My use of the phrase was in fact a direct quote from John’s article: ‘Deng Xiaoping was above all a great leader of the Chinese people’, and earlier, that due to his achievements his position is ensured ‘among a tiny handful of people at the peak not only of Chinese but of world history’. If you don’t find the sentiment and language offensive and laughable, fair enough, we differ.

    John wrote about Deng’s ‘extraordinarily balanced attitude even after return to power towards the development and recent history of China’. Deng, as you probably know, was among the most eager among the leadership to order the brutal crackdown in 1989.

    On the figures for deaths, there’s something repulsive about the words ‘it was only around 500’, as you say ‘several internationally verified reports show’ but in the interests of accuracy, yes the figures are contested, and we’ll probably never know the truth. Protests occurred in over eighty cities throughout China, many of which were accompanied by executions and lengthy imprisonments. As for whether deaths occurred in Tiananmen Square, your sources are at odds with many eye-witness accounts.

    Here’s one quote from an eyewitness, ‘They just opened up fire, and bodies dropped. Bodies just dropped, time and time again… the troops were shooting everybody. I saw a pregnant woman, who had been bayoneted to death in the stomach, and the embryonic baby was lying on the ground beside her… But some of the workers and students stayed in the square. And the troops just mowed them down. They shot them dead… There were dead and wounded lying in the square. Then the tanks came in and rolled over them, and flattened them. And then the soldiers got these bulldozers, and picked up all the bodies and the tents, and put them in a pile and burnt everybody and everything there’. (Steve Jolly, Eyewitness in China, http://www.socialistworld.net/pubs/tiananmen/ch09html)

    That’s from an Australian eyewitness. perhaps it’s not true.

    On whether the Chinese regime at present is repressive or dictatorial. If someone criticises or satirizes the leadership on the internet they can expect three or four years in prison. If, within the past decade, someone tried to organise an opposition or democracy group, they received ten year sentences. Public protests and demonstrations are frequently met with beatings by hired government thugs, sometimes lynchings, and illegal arrests, (These facts are admitted even in recent academic studies which argue that China is being unfairly criticised) . ‘A deeply centralised government whose actions should be critically examined and criticised when appropriate’ – that doesn’t seem to go far enough.

    Also, many I’m sure will differ with your point that ‘There is a lesson for socialists here looking for alternatives to capitalism as it exists throughout the world’. Is the alternative for socialists a combination of rampant capitalism and an authoritarian regime? (the benefits of which regime are looked on with envy by some western capitalists).

    ‘China was able to expand its economy.. How they were able to do so without having the same problems as capitalist countries illustrates that what Dend was able to achieve is different to the neo-liberal programme that is now all pervasive and is causing such misery’. You can be sure that it is causing a good deal of misery in China too, (and in Africa where Chinese capitalism has bribed several states to allow virtual slave labour as it exploits their natural resources). Unleashed capitalism in China has many similar characteristics to the western version. Among its results are increased demands for trade union rights, protests of old people being denied their pensions, protests of those who have lost their homes when land was taken over by property developers who have bribed Party officials (sound familiar?).

  14. Seosamh

    September 25, 2014 5:33 am

    @Donagh B. The point I didn’t clearly make is that the urban middle class has expanded considerably in China, its conspicuous expenditure in big cars being an indicator, along with foreign tours. Rural village society has stagnated, forcing millions of migrant workers to the distant boom cities. Working conditions and salaries among these mainly non-unionised, semiskilled and unskilled workers are deplorable in many instances. In western democracies they wouldn’t be tolerated without mass marches and strikes. Attempts at public protests by angry farmers and workers are put down by the authorities and are unreported in mainland media. Some unreported agrarian and industrial stories surface in the uncensored Hong Kong media eventually. GNP, GDP and other macroeconomic data don’t tell the grassroots social story. It’s like an upbeat story that appeared in the London Telegraph last week about huge Irish exports and balance of trade figures – nothing much in it for the jobless, the unskilled and the mortgage-strapped middle classes.